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Keywords:

  • Alien species;
  • biological invasions;
  • exotic species;
  • fire;
  • savanna;
  • tropical gallery forest

ABSTRACT

Exotic grasses are a serious threat to biodiversity in the cerrado savannas of central Brazil. Of particular concern is the possible role they may have in impeding tree regeneration at gallery (riverine) forest edges and increasing fire intensity, thereby driving gallery forest retreat. Here we quantify the effect of roads and distance from gallery forests on the abundance of the African grass Melinis minutiflora Beauv. and test for an effect of this species on woody plant regeneration and leaf area index. Melinis was present at approximately 70% of the sites near gallery forest edges, with its frequency declining sharply at greater distances from the edge. Melinis frequency was 2.8 times greater where roads were present nearby. Leaf area index (LAI) of the ground layer was 38% higher where Melinis was present than where it was absent. LAI was strongly correlated to fine fuel mass (r2 = 0.80), indicating higher fuel loads where Melinis was present. The abundance of tree and shrub species in the ground layer was negatively related to LAI and to the presence of Melinis. The greater fuel accumulation and reduced tree regeneration caused by Melinis may cause a net reduction in forest area by increasing fire intensity at the gallery forest edge and slowing the rate of forest expansion.