The Distribution, Dynamics & Impacts Of Invasive Lantana Camara In A Seasonal Forest Of Mudumalai, Southern India
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Species that become naturalized in a new geographical range, subsequently multiply and spread, and persist to the detriment of resident communities, are known as alien invasive species. Two aspects of species invasion – spread and ecological impact – were examined using Lantana camara L. (henceforth lantana) as the study system, specifically in the context of a seasonally dry tropical forest ecosystem of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park. Lantana is a thicket-forming woody shrub of South and central American origin, which is now widespread across the tropics. The thesis is divided broadly into two parts -the first part examines the influences of environmental factors on the distribution and spread of lantana while the second part focuses on the effects of lantana on the distribution, survival and growth of native woody species. Much of the work presented in this thesis was conducted within a 50 ha permanent plot (the Mudumalai Forest Dynamics Plot, MFDP hereon) in Mudumalai, chiefly because the history of invasion by lantana has been recorded here since 1989. The influence of changing resources on lantana invasion was explored at two scales -small spatial but fine temporal scale in the MFDP and at the level of the landscape. Available data on an 18 year chronosequence of changes in the qualitative density of lantana from the MFDP and field studies between the years 2009 and 2010 were used to determine the environmental correlates of lantana spread in time and space. It was found that biotic factors such as the presence of the shrub Helicteres isora and abiotic factors such as proximity to drainages and the combination of fire and drought promoted the intensification of lantana invasion in time while proximity to streams, higher total annual rainfall and low fire frequency contributed to lantana invasion at the landscape level. The impacts of lantana on the seedlings of native woody species were assessed in 10m x 10m plots within the MFDP. An initial enumeration of 60 such plots revealed that animaldispersed, dry forest habitat preferring species were most affected by the presence of dense lantana. A follow-up study comprising of growth and survival measurements made on 1105 seedlings over two years (2008-2010) further confirmed that dry forest preferring species were most affected by the presence of dense lantana and that this response at the community level was most likely influenced by the most abundantly sampled species in this habitat preference guild – Catunaregam spinosa. In conclusion, while the environmental correlates of lantana most likely promoted its invasion, only certain guilds of native species seemed to be negatively affected by the presence of lantana.
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