Different environmental drivers of alien tree invasion affect different life-stages and operate at different spatial scales

Joana R. Vicente*, Christoph Kueffer, David M. Richardson, Ana Sofia Vaz, João A. Cabral, Cang Hui, Miguel B. Araújo, Ingolf Kühn, Christian A. Kull, Peter H. Verburg, Elizabete Marchante, João P. Honrado

*Corresponding author for this work

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Identifying the key factors driving invasion processes is crucial for designing and implementing appropriate management strategies. In fact, the importance of (model-based) prevention and early detection was highlighted in the recent European Union regulation on Invasive Alien Species. Models based on abundance estimates for different age/size classes would represent a significant improvement relative to the more usual models based only on species’ occurrence data. Here, we evaluate the relative contribution of different environmental drivers to the spatial patterns of abundance of several height classes (or life-stages) of invasive tree populations at the regional scale, using a data-driven hierarchical modelling approach. A framework for modelling life-stages to obtain spatial projections of their potential occurrence or abundance has not been formalized before. We used Acacia dealbata (Silver-wattle) as a test species in northwest of Portugal, a heavily invaded region, and applied a multimodel inference to test the importance of various environmental drivers in explaining the abundance patterns of five plant height classes in local landscape mosaics. The ensemble of height classes is considered here as a proxy for population dynamics, life-stages and age of adult trees. In this test with A. dealbata, we used detailed field data on population height structure and calibrated an independent model for each height class. We found evidence to support our hypothesis that the distribution of height classes is mostly influenced by distinct factors operating at different scales. The spatial projections which resulted from several height class models provide an overview of population structure and invasion dynamics considering various life-stages, that is widely used in biodiversity and invasion research. The approach proposed here provides a framework to guide forest management to deal more effectively with plant invasions. It allows to test the effects of key invasion factors (depending on the focal species and on data availability) and supports the spatial identification of suitable areas for invasive species’ occurrence while also accounting for the structural complexity of invasive species populations, thereby anticipating future invasion dynamics. The approach thus constitutes a step forward for establishing management actions at appropriate spatial scales and for focusing on earlier stages of invasion and their respective driving factors (regeneration niche), thereby enhancing the efficiency of control actions on major forest invaders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-275
Number of pages13
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Early online date16 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2019


This work is funded by POPH/FSE, funds and by National Funds through FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology under the Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT) through Post-doctoral grant SFRH/BPD/84044/2012 (Joana Vicente). JPH and JAC received support from FEDER funds through COMPETE and from National Funds through FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology, under project PTDC/AAG-MAA/4539/2012/FCOMP-01-0124-FEDER-027863 (IND_CHANGE). A.S. Vaz is supported by FSE/MEC (Ministério da Educação e Ciência/Fundo Social Europeu) and the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT) through PhD Grant PD/BD/52600/2014. DMR acknowledges support from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (grant 85417). MBA is supported through the Integrated Program of Investigação Científica e Desenvolvimento Tecnológico (IC&DT) (1/SAESCTN/ALENT-07-0224-FEDER-001755). EM is supported through project ReNATURE - Valorization of the Natural Endogenous Resources of the Centro Region (Centro 2020, Centro-01-0145-FEDER-000007). This work was also supported by European Investment Funds by FEDER/COMPETE/POCI – Operational Competitiveness and Internationalisation Programme, under Project POCI-01-0145-FEDER- 006958 and National Funds by FCT - Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, under the project UID/AGR/04033/2013. The authors acknowledge the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC; NSF DBI-1052875), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ and sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of iDiv - German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (DFG FZT 118). Appendix 1

FundersFunder number
Fundo Social Europeu
IC&DTCentro-01-0145-FEDER-000007, 1/SAESCTN/ALENT-07-0224-FEDER-001755
Integrated Program of Investigação Científica e Desenvolvimento Tecnológico
National Research Foundation of South Africa85417
Operational Competitiveness and Internationalisation ProgrammePOCI-01-0145-FEDER- 006958
Synthesis Centre of iDiv - German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research
National Science FoundationDBI-1052875
National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center
DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftFZT 118
Fundação para a Ciência e a TecnologiaPD/BD/52600/2014, SFRH/BPD/84044/2012, UID/AGR/04033/2013
Ministério da Educação e Ciência
Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung
Programa Operacional Temático Factores de CompetitividadePTDC/AAG-MAA/4539/2012/FCOMP-01-0124-FEDER-027863


    • Acacia dealbata
    • Biological invasions
    • Environmental factors
    • Multimodel inference
    • Scale-dependence


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