EXOTIC PALMS THREATENS NATIVE PALMS: A RISK TO PLANT BIODIVERSITY OF ATLANTIC FOREST

ABSTRACT Invasive plants can profoundly modify physical and biological characteristics of their new environments, especially when such habitats are already fragmented and reduced by anthropogenic pressure, such as the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. Here, we hypothesized that exotic palms successfully establish among the natural Euterpe edulis populations through a continuous propagule input by avifauna, high germination rates, and rapid growth. As a result, the native palm is experiencing decline and may be threatened with extinction. Beginning in 2007, we conducted a continuous forest inventory (FCI) every three years in the primary and secondary forest fragments of Viçosa, Minas Gerais. We use a Markov matrix to project future distributions of palm trees. The secondary forest contained three exotic palm species: Archontophoenix alexandrae, Livistona chinensis, and Arenga caudata. The first palm is a serious risk to natural E. edulis populations in the Atlantic because of frequent interactions with birds, rapid germination, and aggressive colonization in the lower to medium vertical forest strata. Currently, natural E. edulis populations are viable and sustainable, capable of regeneration, growth, and fruiting, their communities maintain continuous gene flow, dominating vertical forest strata compared with exotic palms. However, exotic palms should be monitored and control measures should be analyzed, especially in areas with A. alexandrae populations.