Community structure, succession and invasibility in a seasonal deciduous forest in southern Brazil.
Majority of invasive trees colonize grasslands, shrublands, and temperate forests. Hovenia dulcis is an exception, because it is one of the most pervasive invaders in Brazilian subtropical forests where it has changed their structure and composition. This study has aimed to identify the clues for its success by defining the structural and functional characteristics of plant communities in different stages of succession with and without H. dulcis. Following the general assumptions of invasion ecology, we expected that H. dulcis establishment and invasion success would be significantly higher in early successional communities, with high resource availability and low species richness and diversity, as well as low functional diversity. Contrary to this hypothesis, no differences were found between plant communities invaded and non-invaded by H. dulcis at three different succession stages. No relationship was found between species richness and diversity and functional diversity, with respect to invasibility along the successional gradient. Hovenia dulcis is strongly associated with semi-open vegetation, where the species was found in higher density. The invasion of open vegetation is more recent, providing evidence of the species's ability to invade plant communities in early successional stages. We concluded that the colonization by H. dulcis was associated with forest openness, but the species is also able to colonize semi-open vegetation, and persist in the successionally more advanced communities.