Date of this Version
Biological Control 60 (2012) 163–168; doi:10.1016/j.biocontrol.2011.10.003
The recruitment and mortality of Melaleuca quinquenervia seedlings were evaluated over a 3-year period in a seasonally inundated wetland in the western Everglades region. The mean (±SE) density of seedlings/ saplingsm-1 declined from 64.8 (±4.5) to 0.5 (±0.2) over the 3 years, a population reduction of 99.2%. Four distinct water regimes characterized this site: dry, dry to wet transition, flooded, and wet to dry transition. Seedling recruitment was highest in the dry to wet transition and lowest in the flooded water regime, while mortality was highest under flooded and dry water regimes. The mean estimate of population growth (λ) across water regimes was 0.64 ± 0.05 indicating negative population growth. Elimination of introduced insect herbivores using insecticides did not reduce mortality of recruited M. quinquenervia seedlings/saplings indicating that direct herbivory was not responsible for the decline in seedling density. On the other hand, a mean of only 0.2 (±0.03) viable seeds m-2 d-1 fell into the plots, an amount considerably lower than in previous studies. We submit that change in the invasion trajectory M. quinquenervia was most likely caused by reduced seed inputs from aerial seed banks depleted by insect herbivory rather than direct herbivory on seedlings. This may indicate a fundamental alteration of M. quinquenervia population dynamics ultimately resulting in a less invasive and, therefore, less ecologically damaging species.