Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) invasion in maritime forests: the role of anthropogenic disturbance and its management implication
Land-use and forest management practices may facilitate the invasion success of non-native plants in forests. In this study, we tested if agricultural land abandonment and subsequent forest management contributed to the invasion success of Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera (L.) Small) in the maritime forest of Parris Island, SC. We compared the abundance of Chinese tallow between disturbed and remnant forests, described Chinese tallow establishment patterns in relation to forest management activities, and characterized the structure and composition of disturbed and remnant forests in order to better understand relationships between stand characteristics and invasibility as indicated by Chinese tallow abundance. We found that stands in agricultural land use in 1939 but reforested with slash pine (Pinus elliottii Englem.) since the 1970s (i.e., disturbed forests) had significantly more Chinese tallow stems than stands that remained forested since 1939 (i.e., remnant forests). Remnant forests had significantly greater woody species richness and were more variable in species composition and structure than disturbed forests. Disturbed forests were dominated by early successional, shade intolerant species with a denser woody understory, while remnant forests included species associated with late successional habitats. The number of forest management events was positively associated with Chinese tallow abundance, explaining 34% of the total variation in stem density. Chinese tallow individuals commonly established immediately after forest thinning and their numbers increased exponentially through time. Our findings support that Chinese tallow establishment was strongly related to anthropogenic disturbance including historical agricultural land-use and forest management. This suggests that Chinese tallow invasion may be a symptom, rather than the driver, of the ecological degradation induced by persistent human perturbations.