African Grass Invasion in the Americas: Ecosystem Consequences and the Role of Ecophysiology
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Clearing of natural vegetation for pastures and the deliberate introduction of African grasses constitute significant threats to the biological diversity of the tropics, subtropics, and warm temperate regions of the Americas. African grasses have escaped from cultivated pastures and revegetated rangeland sites and invaded natural areas at alarming rates. Invaded ecosystems tend to be biotically impoverished and differ markedly from adjacent non-invaded areas in structure and function. Effects of pasture creation and invasion by African grasses on ecosystem processes (transformation and flux of energy and matter) are primarily related to loss of woody species and changes in the fire regime. However, the ecophysiological attributes of the African grasses (e.g. high biomass allocation to leaves, high growth rate, and high leaf-level gas exchange rates) also have important consequences. Here we describe the extent of pasture creation with African grasses and their invasive spread in the New World and review ecological effects of these land-cover changes. We highlight a number of comparative ecophysiological studies within the context of mechanisms responsible for invasion by African grasses and resulting ecosystem change.
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