Reproductive performance of the invasive tree Ligustrum lucidum in a subtropical dry forest: does habitat fragmentation boost or limit invasion?
The spread of non-native invasive plants is closely linked to land use changes imposed by human activities such as the expansion of urbanizations and agricultural activities that result in the loss and fragmentation of native forests. While the conditions generated in fragmented forests may provide suitable new habitat for the arrival and establishment of invasive plant propagules, we know little about the reproductive performance of established invasive populations growing in fragmented conditions. We assess sexual reproduction of Ligustrum lucidum in continuous and fragmented forests across 2 years. We also measure soil quality parameters in 1 year to determine their relative influence in shaping its reproduction in both landscape conditions. We observed a strong decrease in reproductive success at the population level in fragmented habitats. However, reproduction at the individual level showed no differences in seed production per tree between landscape conditions, implying no changes in pollination service. Simultaneously, soils of continuous forests had higher water content, total nitrogen, organic matter and carbon. These soil quality parameters were positively correlated with seed production and seedling number per plot within the same year. Thus, reproductive failure in fragmented forests would not be the result of Allee effects but the consequence of less favorable abiotic soil conditions. In current dynamic and changing climatic scenarios imposed by human activities, water and nutrient demanding invasive plants like L. lucidum might be as likely as or even more susceptible to these changes than native ones. Climatic shifts acting in concert with land use changes may either ameliorate invasion spread in abiotically eroded fragmented habitats or boost invasion into novel environments, resulting in new distribution spread patterns.