The tortoise and the hare: a race between native tree species and the invasive Chinese tallow.
Species-specific growth rate and its response to interspecific competition can determine the winners and losers in forest stand development following disturbance. In the southeastern US, Chinese tallow [Triadica sebifera (L.) Small], a non-native, fast-growing, invasive tree readily displaces native species. However, its rapid early height growth may not compensate for its shorter ultimate stature and earlier senescence when competing with fast growing native tree species of larger stature and longer lifespans. In this study, we compared the growth and competitiveness of Chinese tallow to two native species, slash pine (Pinus elliottii Englem.) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua L.), using two datasets representing different spatial scales. Plot data from Parris Island, South Carolina obtained by conducting stem analyses, were used to determine height and diameter growth patterns in relation to age and competition. Landscape-scale data from the U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program were used to determine the relationship of relative importance value (rIV) and periodic annual DBH increment along a competition gradient. We found that Chinese tallow displayed faster diameter and height growth initially, but slowed down considerably after eight years, compared to slash pine. Slash pine was the least tolerant of competition among the three species, and competition had less effect on the growth of Chinese tallow and sweetgum. Our findings suggest that stand-replacing disturbance favors the rapid growth of Chinese tallow for the first decade, even under intense competition. Further, the establishment of native tree species would require effective control of Chinese tallow immediately following disturbance. Efforts to manage Chinese tallow while promoting the growth of native trees may include site preparation to reduce initial abundance of this invasive species, artificial regeneration of native species to provide them 'head-start' during the first few years of growth, and release treatments early in stand development to reduce competition for native species.