Comparing the establishment of an invasive and an endemic palm species in the Atlantic rainforest.
Background: Biological invasions are one of the major causes of biodiversity loss, yet remain rather understudied in tropical environments. The Australian palm tree Archontophoenix cunninghamiana was introduced into Brazil for ornamental purposes, but has become an invasive species in urban and suburban forest patches. The substitution of A. cunninghamiana by the native palm Euterpe edulis has been proposed as a management action. Aims: We aimed to evaluate the regeneration potential of these two palm species in an Atlantic forest remnant in south-eastern Brazil where both species occur. Methods: We compared seedling establishment and seed longevity of both species through seed sowing, and also measured the contribution of A. cunninghamiana to the local seed rain and seed bank. Results: Nearly half of the non-anemochoric diaspores collected from the seed rain belonged to A. cunninghamiana, which represented a high propagule pressure in the community. The distribution of the alien palm seeds in the seed rain correlated with the distribution of nearby young and adult individuals inside the forest. Neither A. cunninghamiana nor E. edulis appeared to have a persistent seed bank in a burial experiment; seedling survival experiments suggested a much better performance for A. cunninghamiana, which had a survival rate of ca. 30% compared with a rate of only 3.5% for E. edulis. Conclusions: The results suggest a higher regeneration capacity for the alien palm over the native species when co-occurring in a forest fragment. Management actions are thus proposed to reduce a potential biological invasion process.