Phenology and fruit traits of Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, an invasive palm tree in the Atlantic forest of Brazil.
The Australian palm Archontophoenix cunninghamiana was introduced into Brazil as an ornamental species, and became a dangerous invader of remnant Atlantic forest patches, demanding urgent management actions that require careful planning. Its fruits are greatly appreciated by generalist birds and its sudden eradication could be as harmful as its permanence in the native community. Our hypothesis was that A. cunninghamiana phenology and fruit traits would have facilitated the invasion process. Hence the aim of the study was to characterize the reproductive phenology of the palm by registering flowering and fruiting events, estimating fruit production, and evaluating fruit nutritional levels. Phenological observations were carried out over 12 months and analyzed statistically. Fruit traits and production were estimated. Pulp nutritional levels were determined by analyzing proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates. Results showed constant flowering and fruiting throughout the year with a weak reproductive seasonality. On average, 3651 fruits were produced per bunch mainly in the summer. Fruit analysis revealed low nutrient contents, especially of proteins and lipids compared with other Brazilian native palm species. We concluded that the abundant fruit production all year round, and fruit attractivity mainly due to size and color, may act positively on the reproductive performance and effective dispersion of A. cunninghamiana. As a management procedure which would add quality to frugivore food resources we suggest the replacement of A. cunninghamiana by the native palm Euterpe edulis, especially in gardens and parks near to Atlantic forest fragments.