Transplant experiments predict potential future spread of alien succulents along an elevation gradient

  • Jennifer L. PannellEmail author
  • Richard P. Duncan
  • Philip E. Hulme
Original Paper


Determining whether an alien species is at environmental equilibrium is fundamental to understanding the risk of its continued range expansion, but this is rarely quantitatively assessed. We used experimental transplants within and beyond the current elevation range (~ 0–300 m a.s.l.) of two naturalized succulent plant species, Aeonium arboreum and Aeonium haworthii, to investigate whether they have reached their climatic limits in New Zealand. The two species have similar invasion histories but differ in climatic tolerances in their native ranges, therefore we expected them to differ in their potential to spread within New Zealand. We transplanted individuals of both species along an elevation and precipitation gradient and measured plant growth, mortality and seedling establishment over 2 years. Both species responded strongly and in similar ways to climatic variation along the gradient. Annual frost days was a strong predictor of performance for both species; plants grown at sites with more frost days had lower growth, survival and reproduction. We used our results to predict plant growth, survival and reproduction beyond their current naturalised range. We found that neither species is likely to survive at elevations greater than 300 m a.s.l. and that, while A. haworthii appears to be at or near climatic equilibrium, A. arboreum has the potential for spread further up in elevation. We provide the first evidence of the climatic tolerances of Aeonium sp. in their introduced range, and the risk of their continued spread in New Zealand.


Crassulaceae Climate Distribution Equilibrium Plant performance Range limit Weed 



This research was supported by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission through its funding of the Bio-Protection Research Centre of Excellence, and carried out under permits granted by the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Christchurch City Council. We are grateful to the Port Hills Rangers and the Lincoln University Field Services Centre, in particular Di Carter and Dan Dash, for their assistance with managing the experiment. We also acknowledge the hard work of numerous field assistants, in no particular order: Robyn Butters, Jagoba Malumbres-Olarte, Kirsty McGregor, Aimee McCulla, Katie Villano, and Ruaire Murray. We thank Hannah Buckley and two anonymous referees for their constructive criticism of the manuscript.


This research was supported by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission through its funding of the Bio-Protection Research Centre of Excellence.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10530_2019_1982_MOESM1_ESM.docx (260 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 259 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bio-Protection Research CentreLincoln UniversityLincolnNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of ScienceAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.Institute for Applied EcologyUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia

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