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Naturalization of exotic plant species in north-eastern North America: trends and detection capacity


Claude Lavoie, École supérieure d’aménagement du territoire et de développement régional, Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec G1A 0V6, Canada.


Aim  To reconstruct historical naturalization trends of exotic vascular plants in Quebec and Massachusetts, two regions that experienced fluctuations in their herbarium specimen collection efforts. We hypothesized that the observed trends are linked to the collection effort and that they differ according to the motive for plant introduction.

Methods  A checklist of naturalized exotic plant taxa for Quebec, including oldest proof of naturalization and motive for introduction, was built from herbaria, journals, dissertations, theses, bulletins, websites and unpublished records. For Massachusetts, we used the checklist of Sorrie (2005; Rhodora, 107, 284–329). The collection effort was estimated from a pool of species with specimens from the five largest Quebec herbaria and from the Harvard University Herbarium.

Results  Naturalization trends of exotic plants in Quebec are similar to those observed in Massachusetts. A large part of the plants naturalized in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries, with very little naturalization during the last 30–90 years. In general, there is a significant statistical link between herbarium specimen collection effort and the discovery of new naturalized plant taxa. Very few utilitarian plants naturalized in either region during the 20th century. In Quebec, a high number of ornamental plants naturalized during the last 100 years.

Main conclusions  The link between herbarium specimen collection effort and the discovery of new naturalized plants is real, although not as straightforward as it seems. Our analysis suggests that at least part of the decline in the number of new naturalized exotic plants observed in Quebec and Massachusetts during the last 30–90 years is a direct consequence of the low interest for traditional floristic studies. However, the possibility of a real decline cannot be ruled out. We nevertheless provide here one of the first pieces of evidence of the potential consequences of the decline of local plant collection for environmental management and especially for early detection systems of new invaders.