Main content area

Monitoring and modeling the invasion of the fast spreading alien Senecio inaequidens DC. in an alpine region

Vacchiano, G., Barni, E., Lonati, M., Masante, D., Curtaz, A., Tutino, S., Siniscalco, C.
Plant biosystems 2013 v.147 no.4 pp. 1139-1147
Senecio inaequidens, biogeography, cattle, climate, databases, environmental factors, flora, forage, grasslands, grazing, habitats, human health, indigenous species, information exchange, introduced species, invasive species, land use, linear models, monitoring, pastures, risk, rivers, roads, surveys, topography, Alps region
We modeled the distribution of the South African alien Senecio inaequidens DC. in the Aosta Valley, Western Italian Alps, using data extracted from the Regional floristic database and from an intensive field survey carried out in years 2009–2010. The aims of the work were (1) to evaluate whether the species is in the introduction, colonization, or establishment stage of invasion, (2) to detect the environmental factors that drive the invasion process, and (3) to highlight the potential range of distribution of the alien species. The modeling framework was a stepwise generalized linear model (GLM), using gridded presence/absence data and environmental predictors such as topography, climate, land use, and anthropogenic and natural disturbances. GLM were fit both with and without an additional independent variable to take into account current dispersal limitations. S. inaequidens displayed a very fast spread in the Aosta Valley in the years 1990–2010. The species was positively associated with roads and rivers, southern slopes, and negatively with elevation. However, it was found at an elevation of 1600 m, showing the ability to reach higher elevations than those observed for other invasive alien species, and confirming to be pre-adapted to mountain conditions. The difference between the species distribution models, with and without dispersal constraints, suggested that the availability of seed sources still limits the potential distribution of the species, rather than the environmental variables, and that the realized regional niche differs to a great extent from the equilibrium niche. When limitations to the seed source cease (i.e., in the establishment stage), the species will likely invade large areas that are currently characterized by pastures and grasslands with native species of high agricultural importance. The invasion of S. inaequidens should therefore be considered a serious threat, due to its potential to invade mountain regions, and in particular to colonize habitats used for grazing and forage, thus leading to a high risk for cattle and human health. We discuss the relevance of the results both concerning communication with the public and to support local eradication and control activities. The inclusion of S. inaequidens in the “black list” of the regional law for the conservation of alpine flora (L.R. 45/2009) will help to transfer the information and support invasion control, in particular at medium elevations.