Fanal A., Mahy G., Fayolle A., Monty A. [2021] Arboreta reveal the invasive potential of several conifer species in the temperate forests of western Europe . NeoBiota 64, 23-42. doi: 10.3897/neobiota.64.56027

Abstract :
Identifying emerging invasive species is a priority to implement early preventive and control actions. In terms of the number of invasive tree species, forestry represents the second largest pathway of introduction, with an invasive debt likely existing for alien conifers in Europe. In the early 1900s, a network of arboreta was established in southern Belgium to assess the wood production potential of prospective conifer and broadleaved species. Here, we use eight arboreta as natural experiments to identify alien conifers presenting invasive behavior. Through systematic sampling, we quantified the natural regeneration of alien conifers and recorded local environmental variables. For each species, regeneration density, dispersal distances, and age structure were analyzed. Generalized mixed effects models were fitted to test the effect of planted area and tree-stand type on regeneration. The environmental space occupied by regenerating alien conifers was evaluated using principal component analysis. Out of 31 planted alien species, 15 (48%) were identified in natural regeneration, of which eight (26%) exhibited important regeneration density and dispersal distances. The most invasive species were Tsuga heterophylla and Abies grandis, confirming earlier field observations. Both large planted areas and areas planted with alien conifer species increased the density of regeneration. Species that had the highest regeneration density tolerated a wide range of environmental conditions, including shaded understory, which could lead to the invasion of mature, undisturbed forests. This study showed that 17% of the studied alien conifers are potentially invasive because they show important regeneration, long-distance dispersal, and, of importance, have already produced offspring that have matured and are capable of creating new satellite populations. In conclusion, our results provide a guideline for future planting operations, recommending extreme caution when planting these species in the temperate forests of Western Europe.

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