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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Invasions of Puerto Rican Wetlands by the Australian Tree Melaleuca Quinquenervia.

Authors
item Pratt, Paul
item Quevedo, Vicente - PR/DRNA
item Bernier, Lourdes - PR/DRNA
item Sustache, Jose - PR/DRNA
item Center, Ted

Submitted to: Carribean Journal of Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 1, 2005
Publication Date: May 1, 2005
Citation: Pratt, P.D., Quevedo, V., Bernier, L., Sustache, J., Center, T.D. 2005. INVASIONS OF PUERTO RICAN WETLANDS BY THE AUSTRALIAN TREE MELALEUCA QUINQUENERVIA.. Carribean Journal of Science. 41(1):42-54.2005a.

Interpretive Summary: Melaleuca quinquenervia (melaleuca) is a native to eastern Australia and has been introduced to various locations around the world. One hundred years after its introduction into Florida, melaleuca grows spontaneously and displaces native plants as well as animals in the wetlands that comprise the Florida Everglades. Melaleuca has also been planted widely as an ornamental on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. In this study we sought to determine if melaleuca has escaped ornamental plantings on the island and if so, how aggressive the tree is in Puerto Rican wetlands. Four naturalized populations of the exotic tree were discovered in environmentally sensitive Puerto Rican wetlands, including the Tortuguero Lagoon basin and San Juan Bay Estuary. Consistent with many plant invasions, seeds most likely originated from nearby ornamental plantings. Tree densities ranged widely among sites (2400 to 36300 trees per ha) and fell within the range of stands observed in Florida. Unlike Florida, the rate of naturalization and the magnitude of invasion by melaleuca are limited in Puerto Rico. We predict, therefore, that timely implementation of appropriate control tactics at this early stage of invasion with adequate follow-up efforts and continued vigilance will stem the large-scale invasion of melaleuca in Puerto Rico.

Technical Abstract: Invasion theory suggests that the probability of an introduced plant displacing native flora and fauna is related, in part, to its performance in other climatically similar, non-native ranges. Herein, we sought to determine if the Australian native Melaleuca quinquenervia, an insidious weed in the wetlands of Florida USA, has also invaded similar habitats on the island of Puerto Rico. Four naturalized populations of the exotic tree were discovered in environmentally sensitive Puerto Rican wetlands, including the Tortuguero Lagoon basin and San Juan Bay Estuary. Consistent with many plant invasions, the most probable seed sources for these naturalized populations are nearby ornamental plantings. Densities of the three M. quinquenervia populations studied in detail varied dramatically among sites, ranging from 2400 to 36300 trees per ha and fell within the range of stands observed in Florida. The number of capsular fruit produced per inflorescence is similar among Puerto Rico and Florida populations but markedly greater in comparison to its native range. In contrast, the number of seeds within fruits varied among stands and independently from geographic range. Unlike Florida, the rate of naturalization and the magnitude of invasion by M. quinquenervia are limited in Puerto Rico. We predict, therefore, that timely implementation of appropriate control tactics at this early stage of invasion with adequate follow-up efforts and continued vigilance will greatly enhance the probability of averting a large scale M. quinquenervia invasion in Puerto Rico.

Last Modified: 9/21/2014
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