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Threat of Invasive Alien Plants to Native Flora and Forest Vegetation of Eastern Polynesia

From: Pacific Science
Volume 58, Number 3, July 2004
pp. 357-375 | 10.1353/psc.2004.0032


Eastern Polynesia, a phytogeographical subregion of Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, comprises the archipelagoes of the Cook Islands, the Austral Islands, the Society Islands, the Tuamotu Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, and Rapa Nui, which is the easternmost inhabited island of Polynesia. It consists of a total of about 140 tropical to subtropical oceanic islands that are among the most remote in the world, being over 3,000 km distant from the nearest continents. Because of this strong geographic isolation, the relatively young geological age, and small terrestrial surface (less than 4,000 km2) of these islands, the native flora of eastern Polynesia is impoverished, disharmonic, and with a relative low number of endemic genera (12). However, some high volcanic islands within these archipelagoes display a great diversity of habitats and a highly endemic flora (e.g., 50% for the vascular plants in Nuku Hiva, 45% in Tahiti) with striking cases of adaptative radiation (e.g., in the genera Bidens, Cyrtandra, Glochidion, Myrsine, and Psychotria). Most of these endemic taxa are restricted to montane rain forests and cloud forests. These upland wet forests are not directly threatened by habitat destruction by humans or disturbance by large mammals but rather by invasive alien plants. Native forests of eastern Polynesian islands are invaded by aggressive introduced species (e.g., Lantana camara and Psidium cattleianum in most island groups; Syzygium jambos in Pitcairn, Tahiti, and Nuku Hiva; Ardisia elliptica, Cestrum nocturnum, Spathodea campanulata in Tahiti and Rarotonga; Rubus rosifolius in the Society Islands, Hiva Oa, and Rapa Iti). Therefore, one of the highest priorities for the long-term conservation of the original native flora and forest vegetation of eastern Polynesia should be given to the study (invasion dynamics and ecological impacts) and control (strategy and methods) of the current invasive alien plants and to the early detection and eradication of potential plant invaders. Eastern Polynesia, with its small, diverse, and isolated oceanic islands, also offers opportunities to test hypotheses on the vulnerability of islands to invasion by alien species, with or without disturbance.