Pinus contorta invasion in the Chilean Patagonia: local patterns in a global context
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- Langdon, B., Pauchard, A. & Aguayo, M. Biol Invasions (2010) 12: 3961. doi:10.1007/s10530-010-9817-5
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Alien conifer invasions are affecting ecosystems across the globe, but until recently, reports of such invasions in South America were scarce. Pinus contorta was first established in Chilean Patagonia for erosion control caused by historical fires and cattle farming. Recently, the species has been planted over large areas for commercial purposes. It is well adapted to local conditions and is now spreading into natural areas. This study analyzes natural regeneration of Pinus contorta around Coyhaique city, Chile, to determine the spatial patterns of invasion. Five study sites were selected, four with grasslands dominated by exotic species and one site in the steppe. In each site, the plantation (seed source) was characterized using morphological attributes and density. Regeneration, density, height and age at different distances from the seed source were recorded, and ground cover was measured as an environmental factor influencing the invasion process. A comparative analysis was also conducted between the situation in Chile and other countries affected by P. contorta invasion. In Chile, P. contorta regeneration is significantly influenced by distance from the seed source. Higher densities are found close to the parent stand (up to 13,222 trees ha−1), decreasing as distance from the seed source increases. Age and height structure indicate that the invasion process is at an early stage, and this offers a unique opportunity to study the process of invasion and to monitor it over time. In order to preserve the distinctiveness of Patagonian ecosystem, decisive action is required to control invasive conifers, with P. contorta as the number one priority. Relative to control, there is much that can be learnt from the experiences of other countries, such as New Zealand.