Biological Invasions

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 1377–1388 | Cite as

Multiple factors determine the rate of increase of an invading non-native tree in New Zealand

  • Peter A. Williams
  • John M. Kean
  • Rowan P. Buxton
Original Paper


We reconstructed the invasion of a non-native tree (hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna) into fire-induced grassland in montane South Island, New Zealand. Using the relationship between height and age to reconstruct the rate of increase of the population, we identified three distinct invasion phases. We hypothesised that these related to the abundance of woody vegetation and therefore of non-native blackbirds (Turdus merula), the primary disperser of hawthorn in this environment. From the 1930s to 1959, increase was relatively slow, with hawthorn spread probably constrained due to browsing of seedlings by European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and the low abundance of a native N-fixing shrub (matagouri, Discaria toumatou) providing few perches and nesting sites for blackbirds and safe sites for hawthorn establishment. Subsequently, from 1959 to 1976, hawthorn showed greater than six fold acceleration in its rate of population increase, resulting largely from intensive rabbit control, less frequent fires, and aerial topdressing of phosphate fertilizer promoting the growth of matagouri scrub. In addition, maturing hawthorn trees provided additional food and nesting sites for blackbirds. Hawthorn population increase slowed again from 1976, possibly because most suitable habitat in the immediate vicinity of the population neared saturation. From this case study we have constructed a general hypothesis for the factors determining the rate of invasion of matagouri—grassland habitats by bird-dispersed non-native woody plants in montane New Zealand.


Invasion Spread Non-native species Bird dispersal Hawthorn Matagouri 



We thank Brian Karl for field assistance, Stephen Ferris for GIS assistance, Richard Duncan for statistical advice and Graeme Bourdôt and especially Peter Bellingham for helpful discussions. Two referees made valuable contributions to the paper. Figure 3 map background sourced from Topographic Map Series 260, Crown Copyright Reserved. This work was funded by New Zealand Foundation for Research Science and Technology through programmes C09X0502 and C09X0504.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter A. Williams
    • 1
  • John M. Kean
    • 2
  • Rowan P. Buxton
    • 3
  1. 1.Landcare ResearchNelsonNew Zealand
  2. 2.AgResearchChristchurchNew Zealand
  3. 3.Landcare ResearchLincolnNew Zealand

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