Range expansion of invasive shrubs: implication for crown fire risk in forestlands of the southern USA
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Non-native plant invasions and changing management activities have dramatically altered the structure and composition of forests worldwide. Invasive shrubs and fire suppression have led to increased densification and biomass accumulation in forest ecosystems of the southeastern USA. Notably, Chinese and European privets are rapid growing, shade-tolerant shrubs which number among the most aggressive invasive species in these forests. Privet encroachment has caused losses of native diversity, alteration of ecosystem processes and changes in community structure. The latter has become manifest through decreases in fine herbaceous fuels concurrent with increases in coarse woody fuels in forest understoreys. These alterations in fuel structure will potentially lead to less frequent, but more severe forest fires, which threaten important forest resources during extreme weather conditions. Drawing on extensive data sets compiled by the US Forest Service, we integrated statistical forecasting and analytical techniques within a spatially explicit, agent-based, simulation framework to predict potential range expansion of Chinese and European privet (Ligustrum sinenseandL. vulgare) and the associated increase in crown fire risk over the next two decades in forestlands of Mississippi and Alabama. Our results indicate that probability of invasion is positively associated with elevation, adjacency (within 300 m) to water bodies, mean daily maximum temperature, site productivity and private land ownership, and is negatively associated with slope, stand age, artificial regeneration, distance to the nearest road and fire disturbance. Our projections suggest the total area invaded will increase from 1.36 to ≈31.39% of all forestlands in Mississippi and Alabama (≈7 million hectares) and the annual frequency of crown fires in these forestlands will approximately double within the next two decades. Such time series projections of annual range expansions and crown fire frequency should provide land managers and restoration practitioners with an invasion chronology upon which to base proactive management plans.
author list (cited authors)
Wang, H., Wonkka, C. L., Grant, W. E., & Rogers, W. E.