In Mediterranean regions, biological invasions pose a major threat to the conservation of native species and the integrity of ecosystems. In addition, changes in land-cover are a widespread phenomenon in Mediterranean regions, where an increase in urban areas and major changes from agricultural abandonment to shrub encroachment and afforestation are occurring. However, the link between biological invasions and changes in land-cover has scarcely been analyzed. We conducted a regional survey of the distribution of the two alien prickly-pear cacti Opuntia maxima and O. stricta in Cap de Creus (Catalonia, Spain) and related patterns of invasion to spatially explicit data on land-cover/change from 1973 to 1993 to test the hypotheses that the two Opuntia species invade areas that have experienced large land-cover transformations. We found that Opuntia invasion is particularly high in shrublands and woodlands located near urban areas. O. maxima are over-represented in the shrublands and O. stricta in the woodlands that were former crops. Crop coverage has dropped by 71% in this 20-year period. This study highlights the role of past land-cover in understanding the present distribution of plant invasions.
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