Endemic Trees in a Tropical Biodiversity Hotspot Imperilled by an Invasive Tree

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Biodiversity hotspot, Jamaica, Pittosporum undulatum, Resilience, Tree species richness, Tropical montane rain forest

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College of Natual Science and Mathematics, Biological Sciences


Non-native plants invade some tropical forests but there are few long-term studies of these invasions, and the consequences for plant richness and diversity are unclear. Repeated measurements of permanent plots in tropical montane rain forests in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park in Jamaica over 24 to 40 years coincided with invasion by a non-native tree, Pittosporum undulatum. By 2014, P. undulatum comprised, on average, 11.9% of stems ≥ 3 cm diameter and 10.4% of the basal area across 16 widespread plots within c. 250 ha of the forests. Across these plots, the more P. undulatum increased in basal area over 24 years, the greater the decline in local, plot-scale tree species richness, and the greater the reduction in the percentage of stems of endemic tree species. Plot-scale tree diversity (Shannon and Fisher's alpha) also declined the more P. undulatum basal area increased, but beta diversity across the plots was not reduced. Declines in local-scale tree species diversity and richness as the invasion progresses is especially concerning because Jamaica is a global biodiversity hotspot. Native birds disperse P. undulatum seeds widely, and future hurricanes will probably further increase its invasion by reducing canopy cover and therefore promoting growth rates of its established shade-tolerant seedlings. Remedial action is needed now to identify forest communities with greatest endemism, and to protect them through a continuing programme of control and removal of P. undulatum.

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