Plantlet recruitment is the key demographic transition in invasion by Kalanchoe daigremontiana.
Biological invasions have a great impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning worldwide. Kalanchoe daigremontiana is a noxious invasive plant in arid zones. Besides being toxic for domestic animals and wildlife, this species inhibits the growth of native plants. Its rapid proliferation in Cerro Saroche National Park (Venezuela) is of great concern because this area hosts several species endemic to the scarce arid zones in the Caribbean. The traits of K. daigremontiana that contribute to its invasive success are unknown. Based on empirical data, we derived a stage structured, stochastic and density-dependent model, to identify characteristics relevant for its establishment. Sensitivity analyses revealed that the establishment of K. daigremontiana depends exclusively on plantlet recruitment. Because asexual plantlets reproduce in less than 1 year populations are able to increase rapidly during the initial phases of invasion, when extinction risks are higher. Sexual seedlings, on the contrary, require a minimum of 3 years to reproduce. As a result, seedling recruitment contributes little to the transient dynamics of the population and therefore cannot warrant the successful establishment of the species. Simulations of various management strategies show that eradication through plant removal may only be achieved if harvest begins shortly after introduction. If a rapid response is not possible, reducing the survival and growth rates of plantlets through biological control is an alternative option. Thus, a strict control of dispersal of plantlets by humans and a continuous monitoring of new invasions should be the first priority for reducing further impact on native species.