The transition from a species introduction to an invasion often spans many decades (a lag phase). However, few studies have determined the mechanisms underlying lag phases. Such a mechanistic understanding is vital if the potential ecosystem-level impacts are to be predicted and the invasion risks to be managed proactively. Here we examine Banksia ericifolia, introduced for floriculture to South Africa, as a case study. We found 18 sites where the species has been planted, with self-sustaining (naturalized) populations at four sites, and an invasive population at one site. The invasion originated from around 100 individuals planted 35 years ago; after several fires this population has grown to approximately 10000 plants covering about 127ha. The current invasion of B.ericifolia already has ecosystem-level impacts, for example the nectar available to bird pollinators has more than doubled, potentially disrupting native pollination networks. If fires occurred at the other naturalized sites we anticipate populations would rapidly spread and densify with invaded areas ultimately become banksia-dominated woodlands. Indeed the only site other than the invasive site where fire has occurred regularly is already showing signs of rapid population growth and spread. However, recruitment is mainly immediately post fire and no seed bank accumulates in the soil, mechanical control of adult plants is cheap and effective, and immature plants are easily detected. This study is a first in illustrating the importance of fire in driving lag phases and provides a valuable example for why it is essential to determine the mechanisms that mediate lag phases in introduced plant species. Serotinous species that have been introduced to areas where fire is suppressed could easily be misinterpreted as low risk species whilst they remain in a lag phase, but they can represent a major invasion risk.
- biological invasion
- early detection and rapid response
- time lag