Long-distance Dispersal of Invasive Grasses by Logging Vehicles in a Tropical Dry Forest
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Predicting responses of vegetation to environmental factors in human-altered tropical ecosystems requires an understanding of the controls on plant population expansion across landscapes (i.e., long-distance dispersal) as well as of factors affecting recruitment at local scales (i.e., microsite conditions). We studied the roles of light availability, habitat type, soil disturbance, and seed dispersal in a selectively logged forest in lowland Bolivia where the exotic forage grass Urochloa (Panicum) maxima is abundant on roads and log landings but does not invade felling gaps or unlogged forest. Shade-house trials and seed addition experiments with U. maxima revealed that this C4 grass thrives in high light but also grows in partial shade (10% full sun, but not 1% full sun), and that felling gaps, but not undisturbed forest, are suitable for grass establishment. To determine if seed dispersal by logging vehicles explains the discrepancy between actual and potential grass recruitment sites, we collected grass seeds that fell from trucks onto log landings located long distances (>500m) from established grass populations. Trucks dispersed an estimated 1800 alien grass seeds per log landing during the early dry season; automobiles also transported seeds of grass (135 seeds/vehicle). The seeds collected (and relative abundances) were the exotics U. (Panicum) maxima (97%) and Urochloa (Brachiaria) brizantha (2%), and the pan-tropical weeds Sorghum halapense (1%) and Rottboellia cochinchinensis (0.2%). Grasses invade this forest where disturbance coincides with seed dispersal by motor vehicles, while dispersal limitation apparently prevents invasion of many sites otherwise suitable for grass recruitment (i.e., felling and natural gaps). 2010 The Author(s). Journal compilation 2010 by The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation.