Can alien invasive plants be driven into areas of high protection value due to climate change?

Since this is the first post of my new (and first blog) about the research that I develop, I thought it would be interesting to talk about my very first published article. That article, entitled “Will climate change drive alien invasive plants into areas of high protection value? An improved model-based regional assessment to prioritise the management of invasions” (1), assesses how the distribution of alien invasion species can be affected by changes in climate and how they can be driven into areas of high protection values (areas with high values of biodiversity).

It is known that without control measures, the distribution of alien invasive plant species may increase under climate and land-use changes in many regions in the world. We also know that most of the times, limited resources combined with the high invaded areas make it impossible to apply eradication measures to remove alien invasive plants. Therefore, the most efficient way is to monitor and manage areas that can be invaded in the near future by alien invasive plants and find solutions to prevent those invasions. Species distribution models (SDMs), are  widely used to study the most various subjects in ecology (identification of key environmental variables driving species distributions or predict the potential distribution of species under current and future environmental change scenarios). Also, SDMs allow quick and cost-efficient assessments.

In this article, we used a hierarchical SDM framework, complemented by connectivity analysis of alien invasive plant species distributions, to evaluate current and future conflicts between those plants and high conservation value areas. We illustrated the framework with three Australian wattle species (Acacia dealbata, Acacia melanoxylon and Acacia longifolia) and patterns of conservation value in Northern Portugal.

We showed that protected areas will most likely suffer higher pressure from all three Acacia species under future climatic conditions. The results of this study suggested that management should be prioritised for Acacia dealbata and Acacia melanoxylon, due to the higher predicted conflicts in protected areas by these two species. Also, the connectivity of  suitable areas for alien invasive plants is currently lower than across the full study area, but it’s predicted to change under future climatic conditions.

Finally, we demonstrated that coupled SDM’s and connectivity analysis can support resource prioritisation for anticipation and monitoring of alien invasive species impacts.