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Current distribution and potential extent of the most invasive alien plant species on La Réunion (Indian Ocean, Mascarene islands)



Abstract  La Réunion Island has the largest area of intact vegetation of the islands in the Mascarene archipelago. Biological invasions are the primary threat to biodiversity in the intact habitats of the island (those not already transformed by agriculture and urbanization). Our study aimed to identify areas to prioritize in managing invasive alien plants for biodiversity conservation. We used extensive surveys of 238 distinct untransformed areas on La Réunion to define the current distribution patterns of all invasive species. Using expert knowledge, we compiled maps of the current distribution of the 46 most widespread/important invasive plants at the habitat scale (identified according to vegetation structure). Data from 440 botanical relevés for the 20 most threatening invasive alien plant species across the island and climatic envelope models were used to derive climatic suitability surfaces; these were used to map potential distributions for these species. More than 10 species invade 16.7% of the remaining habitat. Five habitat types are invaded by 25 or more species, and eight have fewer than 10 invasive alien plant species. Cluster analysis based on presence/absence of species in the 18 habitat types produced eight groups of species that invade particular habitats. Potential distribution models show that some species have invaded large parts of their potential range (e.g. Fuchsia magellanica, Furcraea foetida, Hiptage benghalensis), whereas others have the potential to increase their range substantially (e.g. Clidemia hirta, Strobilanthes hamiltonianus, Ulex europaeus). Management implications are identified for both groups. Three broad groups of habitats were identified: (i) intact habitats with a low level of invasion (e.g. subalpine shrubland); (ii) moderately invaded habitats with varying levels of intactness (ranging from windward submountain rainforest to the Acacia heterophylla forest); and (iii) habitats with little remaining intact area and high levels of invasion (e.g. lowland rainforest). Different management interventions are appropriate for these three groups.