Fire effects on demography of the invasive shrub Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) in Florida pine savannas.
Fire is a common disturbance in savanna ecosystems that may either facilitate or impede non-native plant invasions. Although fire can create recruitment opportunities for non-native plants, it can also prevent their invasion if it exerts strong negative effects on their demographic processes. Some savannas may, therefore, be able to resist invasion provided the natural, frequent-fire regime remains intact. We examined the effects of fire on the demography of the invasive shrub Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi., which is invading fire-prone slash pine savannas of southern Florida. We studied survivorship, growth, and reproduction of low-density populations of Brazilian pepper in a pine savanna within Everglades National Park to investigate whether fire might suppress Brazilian pepper in the early stages of invasion. We found a significant decrease in Brazilian pepper survivorship following fire, particularly among small individuals. We further found that fire reduced fecundity of surviving Brazilian pepper individuals for at least two years. However, resprouting individuals that survived fire had high relative growth rates the following year, which could facilitate population recovery during inter-fire periods. We used a simple population simulation to show that a low-density cohort of Brazilian pepper may be rapidly eliminated from pine savannas with fire-return intervals of four years or less, but individuals may persist for >50 years with fire-return intervals of eight years or more. Our study suggests the need to maintain the historical frequent-fire regime in pine savannas in order to prevent their invasion by fire-intolerant shrubs such as Brazilian pepper.