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Population Dynamics and Potential for Biological Control of an Exotic Invasive Shrub in Hawaiian Rainforests

DeWalt, Saara J.
Biological invasions 2006 v.8 no.5 pp. 1145-1158
Clidemia hirta, invasive species, population dynamics, population growth, biological control agents, weed control, seedlings, mortality, overstory, rain forests, simulation models, Hawaii
Introduction of biological control agents to reduce the abundance of exotic invasive plant species is often considered necessary but risky. I used matrix projection models to investigate the current population dynamics of Clidemia hirta (Melastomataceae), an invasive shrub, in two rainforest stands on the island of Hawaii and to predict the efficacy of hypothetical biological control agents in reducing population growth rates. Stage-structured matrix models were parameterized with field data collected over 3 years from 2906 C. hirta plants in a recently invaded forest with an open overstory (Laupahoehoe) and 600 plants in a less recently invaded forest with a closed canopy (Waiakea). Asymptotic population growth rates (λ) for both populations in all years were greater than one, demonstrating that both populations were growing. Composite elasticities were high for the seedling life-history stage and fecundity, and near-term demographic elasticities suggested that changes in seedling survival would have the largest effect on population size in the short term. However, simulations showed that almost 100% of seedlings or new recruits produced per reproductive adult would have to be destroyed to cause populations to go locally extinct under current environmental conditions. Herbivores or pathogens that decrease survival across all vegetative stages by 12% at Waiakea and 64% at Laupahoehoe were projected to cause the populations to decline. Thus, biocontrol agents that reduce survival of multiple life-history stages rather than seed production should be pursued to control C. hirta in Hawaiian rainforests.