Biological Invasions

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 663–675 | Cite as

Tree invasions into treeless areas: mechanisms and ecosystem processes

  • Philip W. RundelEmail author
  • Ian A. Dickie
  • David M. Richardson
Original Paper


Non-native tree invasions occur not only in woodland or forest vegetation, but also into areas with little or no native tree presence. Limiting factors for tree establishment and survival include seasonal or annual drought, low nutrient availability, cold temperature extremes, fire, and other abiotic conditions to which trees are poorly adapted as well as biotic conditions such as herbivory and lack of soil mutualist inoculum. Tree invasions of grasslands and semi-arid riparian areas in particular are now widespread and frequently result in the rapid conversion of these habitats to woodlands or forests. In some cases, these invasions are the result of a change in extrinsic conditions such as climate, fire, and/or grazing that remove what have been previous barriers to tree establishment. However, in other cases, tree species with particular life-history and dispersal traits fill open niches or outcompete native species. Significant examples of tree invasion into treeless areas can be seen with invasions of Pinus species into temperate grasslands and fynbos shrublands, Melaleuca quinquenervia and Triadica sebifera into grassy wetlands, Prosopis and Tamarix species into semi-arid riparian zones, and Acacia and Morella invasions into nutrient-poor shrublands and barrens. The establishment of trees into treeless areas may have strong impacts on ecosystem processes, influencing biogeochemical cycling, carbon sequestration and cycling, and ecohydrology, as well possible edaphic legacies that persist even if trees are removed.


Elaeagnus Fynbos Open niche Melaleuca Morella Pinus Prosopis Tree invasion Triadica 



PWR is grateful for support from the University of California Los Angeles and the Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve. IAD acknowledges Core funding for Crown Research Institutes from the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Science and Innovation Group. DMR acknowledges support from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology and the National Research Foundation (grant 85417). The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust funded DMR’s participation in the workshop at Bariloche, Argentina, in September 2012 at which an early version of this paper was tabled. We thank all delegates at the workshop for their contributions to the ideas that are presented here.


  1. Aikio S, Duncan RP, Hulme PE (2010) Lag-phases in alien plant invasions: separating the facts from the artefacts. Oikos 119:370–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen JA (1998) Mangroves as alien species: the case of Hawaii. Global Ecol Biogeogr Lett 7:61–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archer S (1989) Have southern Texas savannas been converted to woodlands in recent history. Am Nat 134:545–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Archer S (1994) Woody plant encroachment into Southwestern grasslands and savannas: rates, patterns and proximate causes. In: Vavra M, Laycock W, Piepe R (eds) Ecological implications of livestock herbivory in the West. Soc Range Manage, Denver, pp 13–68Google Scholar
  5. Archer S, Scifres C, Bassham C, Maggio R (1988) Autogenic succession in a subtropical savanna: rates, dynamics and processes in the conversion of grassland to thorn woodland. Ecol Monogr 58:111–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Archer S, Schimel DS, Holland EA (1995) Mechanisms of shrubland expansion: land use, climate or CO2? Climatic Change 29:91–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ashkannejhad S, Horton TR (2006) Ectomycorrhizal ecology under primary succession on coastal sand dunes: interactions involving Pinus contorta, suilloid fungi and deer. New Phytol 169:345–354PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bahre CJ (1991) A legacy of change: historic human impact on vegetation of the Arizona borderlands. University of Arizona Press, Tucson 231 ppGoogle Scholar
  9. Bodel MJ, Ferriter A, Thayer DD (1994) The biology, distribution, and ecological consequences of Melaleuca quinquenervia in the Everglades. In: Davis SM, Ogden JC (eds) Everglades, the ecosystem and its restoration. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, pp 341–355Google Scholar
  10. Bond WJ, Midgley GF (2000) A proposed CO2-controlled mechanism of woody plant invasion in grasslands and savannas. Global Change Biol 6:865–870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brock JH (1998) Invasion, ecology and management of Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian olive) in the southwestern United States of America. In: Starfinger U, Edwards K, Kowarik I et al (eds) Plant invasions: ecological mechanisms and human responses. Backhuys, Leiden, pp 123–136Google Scholar
  12. Brown JR, Carter J (1998) Spatial and temporal patterns of exotic shrub invasion in Australian tropical grassland. Landsc Ecol 13:93–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Browning DM, Archer SR, Asner GP, McClaran MP, Wessman CA (2008) Woody plants in grasslands: post-encroachment stand dynamics. Ecol Appl 18:928–944PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bruce KA, Cameron GN, Harcombe PA (1995) Initiation of a new woodland type on the Texas coastal prairie by the Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum (L) Roxb). Bull Torrey Bot Club 122:215–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bruns TD, Peay KG, Boynton PJ, Grubisha LC, Hynson NA, Nguyen NH, Rosenstock NP (2009) Inoculum potential of Rhizopogon spores increases with time over the first 4 yr of a 99-yr spore burial experiment. New Phytol 181:463–470PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carilla J, Grau HR (2010) 150 Years of tree establishment, land use and climate change in montane grasslands, northwest Argentina. Biotropica 42:49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carlquist S (1974) Island biology. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Collier FA, Bidartondo MI (2009) Waiting for fungi: the ectomycorrhizal invasion of lowland heathlands. J Ecol 97:950–963CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Coop JD, Givnish TJ (2008) Constraints on tree seedling establishment in montane grasslands of the Valles Caldera, New Mexico. Ecology 89:1101–1111PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Di Tomaso JM (1998) Impact, biology, and ecology of saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) in the Southwestern United States. Weed Techn 12:326–336Google Scholar
  21. Dickie IA, Reich PB (2005) Ectomycorrhizal fungal communities at forest edges. J Ecol 93:244–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dickie IA, Bolstridge N, Cooper JA, Peltzer DA (2010) Co-invasion by Pinus and its mycorrhizal fungi. New Phytol 187:475–484PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dickie IA, Yeates GW, St J, Mark G, Stevenson BA, Scott JT, Rillig MC, Peltzer DA, Orwin KH, Kirschbaum MUF, Hunt JE, Burrows LE, Barbour MM, Aislabie J (2011) Ecosystem service and biodiversity trade-offs in two woody successions. J Appl Ecol 48:926–934CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dickie IA, Davis M, Carswell FE (2012) Quantification of mycorrhizal limitation in beech spread. NZ J Ecol 36:210–215Google Scholar
  25. Dickinson JC (1969) The eucalypt in the Sierra of southern Peru. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 59:294–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Diez J (2005) Invasion biology of Australian ectomycorrhizal fungi introduced with eucalypt plantations into the Iberian Peninsula. Biol Invasions 7:3–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Doughty R (2000) The eucalyptus: a natural and commercial history of the gum tree. Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  28. Duarte LS, Machado RE, Hartz SM, Pillar VD (2006) What saplings can tell us about forest expansion over natural grasslands. J Veg Sci 17:799–808CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ehrenfeld JG (2003) Effects of exotic plant invasions on soil nutrient cycling processes. Ecosystems 6:503–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Elton CS (1958) The ecology of invasions by animals and plants. Metheun, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Farley KA (2007) Grasslands to tree plantations: forest transition in the Andes of Ecuador. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 97:755–771CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gade D (1975) Plants, man and the land in the Vilcanota Valley of Peru. Junk Publishers, The HagueCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Geesing D, Felker P, Bingham RL (2000) Influences of mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) on soil nitrogen and carbon development: implications for global carbon sequestration. J Arid Environ 46:157–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Glenn EP, Nagler PL (2005) Comparative ecophysiology of Tamarix ramosissima and native trees in western U.S. riparian zones. J Arid Environ 61:419–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Grotkopp E, Rejmánek M, Rost TL (2002) Toward a causal explanation of plant invasiveness: seedling growth and life-history strategies of 29 pine (Pinus) species. Am Nat 159:396–419PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Guo LB, Gifford R (2002) Soil carbon stocks and land use change: a meta analysis. Global Change Biol 8:345–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hailu S, Demel T, Sileshi N, Fassil A (2004) Some biological characteristics that foster the invasion of Prosopis juliflora (Sw.) DC. at middle awash rift valley area, north- eastern Ethiopia. J Arid Environ 58:135–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Halpern CB, Antos JA, Rice JM et al (2010) Tree invasion of a montane meadow complex: temporal trends, spatial patterns, and biotic interactions. J Veg Sci 21:717–732Google Scholar
  39. Hastings JR, Turner RM (1966) The changing mile. University of Arizona Press, TucsonGoogle Scholar
  40. Haugo RD, Halpern CB (2010) Tree age and tree species shape positive and negative interactions in a montane meadow. Botany 88:488–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hibbard KA, Schimel DS, Archer S, Ojima DS, Parton W (2003) Grassland to woodland transitions: integrating changes in landscape structure and biogeochemistry. Ecol Appl 13:911–926CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Higgins SI, Scheiter S (2012) Atmospheric CO2 forces abrupt vegetation shifts locally, but not globally. Nature. doi: 10.1038/nature11238 PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Hofstede RGM, Groenendijk JP, Coppus R, Fehse JC, Sevink J (2002) Impact of pine plantations on soils and vegetation in the Ecuadorian high Andes. Mt Res Develop 22:159–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hopper SD (2009) OCBIL theory: towards an integrated understanding of the evolution, ecology and conservation of biodiversity on old, climatically buffered, infertile landscapes. Plant Soil 322:49–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Huxman TE, Wilcox BP, Breshears D, Scott RL, Snyder KA, Small EE, Hultine K, Pockman WT, Jackson RB (2005) Ecohydrological implications of woody plant encroachment. Ecology 86:308–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Idso SB (1992) Shrubland expansion in the American Southwest. Clim Change 22:85–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Jackson RB, Banner JL, Jobbágy EG, Pockman WT, Wall DH (2002) Ecosystem carbon loss with woody plant invasion of grasslands. Nature 418:623–626PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Jäger H, Tye A, Kowarik I (2007) Tree invasion in naturally treeless environments: impacts of quinine (Cinchona pubescens) trees on native vegetation in Galapagos. Biol Conserv 140:297–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kaur R, Gonzáles WL, Llambi LD, Soriano PJ, Callaway RM et al (2012) Community impacts of Prosopis juliflora invasion: biogeographic and congeneric comparisons. PLoS ONE 7(9):e44966. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044966 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kleinbauer I, Dullinger S, Peterseil J, Essl F (2010) Climate change might drive the invasive tree Robinia pseudacacia into nature reserves and endangered habitats. Biol Conserv 143:382–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Langdon B, Pauchard A, Aguayo M (2010) Pinus contorta invasion in the Chilean Patagonia: local patterns in a global context. Biol Invasions 12:3961–3971CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Le Maitre DC, Versfeld DB, Chapman RA (2000) The impact of invading alien plants on surface water resources in South Africa: a preliminary assessment. Water SA 26:397–407Google Scholar
  53. Le Maitre DC, Gaertner M, Marchante E, Ens EJ, Holmes PM, Pauchard A, O’Farrell PJ, Rogers AM, Blanchard R, Blignaut J, Richardson DM (2011) Impacts of invasive Australian acacias: implications for management and restoration. Divers Distrib 17:1015–1029CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. League K, Veblen T (2006) Climatic variability and episodic Pinus ponderosa establishment along the forest-grassland ecotones of Colorado. For Ecol Manag 228:98–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ledgard N (2001) The spread of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta, Dougl.) in New Zealand. For Ecol Manag 141:43–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Luzar J (2007) The political ecology of a “forest transition”: eucalyptus forestry in the southern Peruvian Andes. Ethnobot Res Appl 5:85–93Google Scholar
  57. MacDougall AS, Gilbert B, Levine JM (2009) Plant invasions and the niche. J Ecol 97:609–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mack RN (2003) Phylogenetic constraint, absent life forms, and preadapted alien plants: a prescription for biological invasions. Intern J Plant Sci 164:S185–S196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Martin MR, Tipping PW, Sickman JO (2009) Invasion by an exotic tree alters above and belowground ecosystem components. Biol Invasions 11:1883–1894CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Marx DH (1991) The practical significance of ectomycorrhizae in forest establishment. Ecophysiology of ectomycorrhizae of forest trees. Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, Falun, Sweden, pp 54–90Google Scholar
  61. Mazia CN, Chaneton EJ, Ghersa CM, León JC (2001) Limits to tree species invasion in Pampean grassland and forest plant communities. Oecologia 128:594–602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. McClaran MP (2003) A century of vegetation change on the Santa Rita experimental range. Pages 16–33 in Santa Rita experimental range: one-hundred years (1903–2003) of accomplishments and contributions. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Tucson, ArizonaGoogle Scholar
  63. Merritt DM, Poff NL (2010) Shifting dominance of riparian Populus and Tamarix along gradients of flow alteration in western North American rivers. Ecol Appl 20:135–152PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Merritt DM, Shafroth PB (2012) Edaphic, salinity, and stand structural trends in chronosequences of native and non-native dominated riparian forests along the Colorado River, USA. Biol Invasions 14:2665–2685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Miller EA, Halpern CB (1998) Effects of environment and grazing disturbance on tree establishment in meadows of the central Cascade Range, Oregon, USA. J Veg Sci 9:265–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Mitchell B (1991) Peasants on the edge: crop, culture, and crisis in the Andes. University of Texas Press, AustinGoogle Scholar
  67. Mooney HA (2008) The globalization of ecological thought. Ecology Institute, Oldendorf/Luhe, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  68. Nuñez MA, Horton TR, Simberloff D (2009) Lack of belowground mutualisms hinders Pinaceae invasions. Ecology 90:2352–2359PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pattison RR, Mack RN (2008) Potential distribution of the invasive tree Triadica sebifera (Euphorbiaceae) in the United States: evaluating CLIMEX predictions with field trials. Glob Change Biol 14:813–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Peña E, Hidalgo M, Langdon B, Pauchard A (2008) Patterns of spread of Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud in a natural reserve in southern South America. For Ecol Manag 256:1049–1054CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Pillar VD, Quadros FLF (1997) Grassland–forest boundaries in southern Brazil. Coenoses 12:119–126Google Scholar
  72. Polley HW, Johnson HB, Mayeaux HS (1994) Increasing CO2: competitive responses of the C4 grass Schizachyrium and grassland Prosopis. Ecology 75:976–988CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Pringle A, Bever JD, Gardes M, Parrent JL, Rillig MC, Klironomos JN (2009) Mycorrhizal symbioses and plant invasions. Ann Rev Ecol Evol Syst 40:699–715CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rice JM, Halpern CB, Antos JA et al (2012) Spatio-temporal patterns of tree establishment are indicative of biotic interactions during early invasion of a montane meadow. Plant Ecol 213:555–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Richardson DM, Bond WJ (1991) Determinants of plant distribution: evidence from pine invasions. Am Nat 137:639–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Richardson DM, Cowling RM (1992) Why is mountain fynbos invasible and which species invade? In: Van Wilgen BW, Richardson DM, Kruger FJ, van Hensbergen HJ (eds) Fire in South African mountain fynbos. Springer, Berlin, pp 161–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Richardson DM, Gaertner M (2013) Plant invasions as builders and shapers of novel ecosystems. In: Hobbs RJ, Higgs EC, Hall CM (eds) Novel ecosystems: intervening in the new ecological world order. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp 102–114Google Scholar
  78. Richardson DM, Higgins SI (1998) Pines as invaders in the southern hemisphere. In: Richardson DM (ed) Ecology and biogeography of Pinus. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 450–473Google Scholar
  79. Richardson DM, Rejmánek M (2011) Trees and shrubs as invasive alien species—a global review. Divers Distrib 17:788–809CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Richardson DM, van Wilgen BW (2004) Invasive alien plants in South Africa; how well do we understand the ecological impacts? S Afr J Sci 100:45–52Google Scholar
  81. Richardson DM, Williams PA, Hobbs RJ (1994) Pine invasions in the Southern Hemisphere: determinants of spread and invadability. J Biogeogr 21:511–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Richardson DM, Allsopp N, D’Antonio CM, Milton SJ, Rejmánek M (2000) Plant invasions: the role of mutualisms. Biol Rev 75:65–93PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Richardson DM, van Wilgen BW, Nuñez MA (2008) Alien conifer invasions in South America: short fuse burning? Biol Invasions 10:573–577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Rudel TK, Coomes OT, Moran E, Achard F, Angelsen A, Xu J, Lambin E (2005) Forest transition: towards a global understanding of land use change. Global Environ Change 15:23–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Rundel PW, Nilsen ET, Sharifi M, Virginia R, Jarrell W, Kohl D, Shearer G (1982) Seasonal dynamics of nitrogen cycling for a Prosopis woodland in the Sonoran Desert. Plant Soil 67:343–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Salgado Salomón ME, Barroetaveña C, Rajchenberg M (2011) Do pine plantations provide mycorrhizal inocula for seedlings establishment in grasslands from Patagonia, Argentina? New For 41:191–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Scholes RJ, Archer SR (1997) Tree–grass interactions in savannas. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 28:517544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Serbesoff-King K (2003) Melaleuca in Florida: a literature review on the taxonomy, distribution, biology, ecology, economic importance and control measures. J Aquatic Plant Manag 41:98–112Google Scholar
  89. Shafroth PB, Auble GT, Scott ML (1995) Germination and establishment of native plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides Marshall subsp. monilifera) and the exotic Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.). Conserv Biol 9:1169–1175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Shafroth PB, Cleverly JR, Dudley L, Stuart J, Taylor JP, van Riper C, Weeks EP (2005) Control of Tamarix in the western U.S.—implications for water salvage, wildlife use, and riparian restoration. Environ Manag 35:231–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Simberloff D (2011) Charles Elton. Neither founder nor siren, but prophet. In: Richardson DM (ed) Fifty years of invasion ecology. The legacy of Charles Elton, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp 11–24Google Scholar
  92. Simberloff D, Nuñez MA, Ledgard NJ et al (2010) Spread and impact of introduced conifers in South America: lessons from other southern hemisphere regions. Austral Ecol 35:489–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Stromberg JC, Chew MK, Nagler PL, Glenn EP (2009) Changing perceptions of change: the role of scientists in Tamarix and river management. Restor Ecol 17:177–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Terwilliger J, Pastor J (1999) Small mammals, ectomycorrhizae, and conifer succession in beaver meadows. Oikos 85:83–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Vale TR (1981) Tree invasion of montane meadows in Oregon. Am Midl Nat 105:61–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Van Auken OW (2000) Shrub invasions of North American semiarid grasslands. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 31:197–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. van Wesenbeeck B, van Mourik T, Duivenvoorden JF, Cleef AM (2003) Strong effects of a plantation with Pinus patula on Andean subpáramo vegetation: a case study from Colombia. Biol Conserv 114:207–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Vitousek PM, Walker LR (1989) Biological Invasion by Myrica faya in Hawaii—plant demography, nitrogen-fixation, ecosystem effects. Ecol Monogr 59:247–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Wardle P (1985) New Zealand timberlines. 3. A synthesis. NZ J Bot 23:263–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wiemken V, Boller T (2006) Delayed succession from alpine grassland to savannah with upright pine: limitation by ectomycorrhiza formation? For Ecol Manag 237:492–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Zalba SM, Villamil CB (2002) Woody plant invasion in relictual grasslands. Biol Invas 4:55–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip W. Rundel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ian A. Dickie
    • 2
    • 4
  • David M. Richardson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of California (UCLA)Los AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Landcare ResearchLincolnNew Zealand
  3. 3.Department of Botany and Zoology, Centre for Invasion BiologyStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa
  4. 4.Bio-Protection Research CentreLincoln UniversityLincolnNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations