Effects of prescribed fire, site factors, and seed sources on the spread of invasive Triadica sebifera in a fire-managed coastal landscape in southeastern Mississippi, USA.
In the Gulf of Mexico coastal region, prescribed fire has been increasingly used as a management tool to restore declining native ecosystems, but it also increases the threat posed by biological invasion, since the treated sites are more susceptible to invasive species such as Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera). We chose Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge (MSCNWR), a fire-managed landscape, to examine the potential effect of prescribed fire and landscape/community features on tallow invasion and spread. We took a complete survey of roadways and fire lines for tallow and measured a systematic sample of 144 10×3 m2 rectangular plots along two selected roadways and a simple random sample of 56 0.04-ha circular plots across burn units. We used pair correlation function for marked point pattern data, zero-inflated negative binomial models for count data, as well as multivariate Hotelling's T2 test, to analyze the effect of prescribed fire and landscape/community characteristics on tallow invasion and spread along habitat edges and into interiors. Our results show that tallow spread along habitat edges and into interiors in a spatially clustered pattern. Tallow invasion risk decreases with the distance to seed trees and shrub coverage, and with the time since last fire if seed trees are outside the effective seed dispersal range (∼300 m), but increases with the time since last fire if seed trees are within the effective seed dispersal range. Tallow seedling (≤2 years old) densities increase with the time since last fire and with increasing overstory tree basal area, but decrease with the distance to seed trees. Tallow-invaded interior plots have significantly shorter mean fire return intervals (2.7 years), lower shrub coverage (8.6%), and are closer to edges (20.3 m) than non-invaded plots (4.3 years, 18.4%, 167.6 m, respectively).