Altitudinal variation in fertility and vegetative growth in the invasive plant Rubus alceifolius Poiret (Rosaceae), on Réunion island.
Rubus alceifolius Poiret (Rosaceae) was introduced to the island of Réunion in the southeastern Indian Ocean about 1850 and is now highly invasive. This bramble, native from southeastern Asia and Malaysia, has invaded a wide variety of habitats (lowland rain forest, mountain and submountain rain forest, Acacia heterophylla rain forest) from sea level to 1700 m. It is suspected to be monoclonal so, its remarkable success may be due in part to great phenotypic plasticity. On Réunion, bud, flower, fruit and seed production, the duration of the flowering period and the importance of the seed bank were found to be negatively correlated with elevation (50-1500 m a.s.l.). At a lowland site, fruit production in mature stands averaged between 30 and 80 fruits/m2 during 1999 and 2000. No fruit set occurred above 1100 m. This fruit production pattern was similar over two years. Although the number of leaves per unit area is similar along the whole gradient studied, decrease of fruit set in upland areas might be compensated for by an increase in vegetative growth. Temperature variation is very sharp along the elevation gradient and may control the fruit and the seed production. Fruit production allows establishment of new populations all around the island via bird dissemination. Once established, R. alceifolius maintains dense patches that can grow vegetatively. Our results may be relevant for eradication programs that should take into account variation in reproductive strategy in lowland vs. highland habitats.