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Ecological characteristics of Brachychiton populneus (Sterculiaceae) (kurrajong) in relation to the invasion of urban bushland in south-western Australia

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Abstract

Brachychiton populneus (Sterculiaceae) (Schott et Endl.) R. Br. (kurrajong) is a small tree that occurs naturally ranging from southern Queensland to Victoria. It has been widely planted as an ornamental tree in south-western Australia. In Kings Park, B. populneus has moved from cultivation to become a weed in the adjoining bushland reserve. The aim of this study was to examine the ecology of B. populneus and the Kings Park environment in order to identify the particular conjunction of characteristics that have led to the species becoming a weed. The highest density of kurrajongs (69.3 trees ha–1) was observed in the most disturbed area of Kings Park, and there was a strong relationship between density of B. populneus and disturbance (P = 0.058). The most striking feature of the invasion was the tendency of B. populneus to occur beneath other tree species, and this was attributed to birds feeding on transported fruit in trees and rats building seed caches at their base. Mature trees produced large amounts of viable seed, but rates of seed predation were high. Weevils, beetle larvae and omnivorous vertebrates such as Australian ravens, magpies and introduced black rats were observed eating seeds. The foraging behaviour of the vertebrates may facilitate the dispersal of seeds for relatively long distances away from parent plants. Seeds that escape predation form a transient seed bank and germinate with the onset of the winter rains. Early in their development, seedlings allocate resources to form a large tap-rooted tuber that has substantial starch and water reserves, allowing seedlings to survive the long dry and hot summers in Perth. The study observed that B. populneus could survive at least one fire by resprouting from basal dormant buds. Brachychiton populneus appears to have become a weed in Kings Park because, first, it is dispersed widely into new sites through the foraging behaviour of vertebrates and once germinated has no grazing pressure, and, second, its development of a root tuber and ability to resprout means the seedlings are resilient in this frequently disturbed Mediterranean environment. While management of existing plants is relatively straightforward, continued vigilance will be required to avoid reinvasion.
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Keywords: disturbance; generalist disperser; management; resprout; seed bank; seed predation; weed

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Murdoch and

Publication date: 01 October 2000

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