Abstract

Introduction: Numbers of alien plant species are rising around the globe, but not all of them become invasive. Whereas introductions have been documented for several decades in some regions of the world, knowledge on alien species in Western Mexico is limited. Here, we study roadside vegetation along an elevational gradient, which includes a protected area. Objective: We analysed the floristic composition of herbaceous alien species, their distribution patterns, and their relationship with various environmental factors. A relative importance value index (IVI) identified the most important and, therefore, probably invasive taxa. Methods: During 2017 and 2018, roadside vegetation was documented with 4-6 transects every 300 altitudinal meters, from 0 to 2 100 m, for a total of 37 transects. Each transect consisted of five 1 m² plots. All herbaceous species were registered and alien taxa identified. A cluster analysis distinguished grouping of species based on elevation. The potentially invasive species were identified by their IVI, based on the sum of relative frequency and density values. The influence of environmental variables was analysed with a canonical correspondence analysis. Results: Most alien species were grasses; other families were represented by one or two species. The species were grouped into three main clusters. The first group included rare species, the second consisted of species restricted to higher altitudes, and the third group were tropical taxa with a distribution from sea level to medium altitudes. The most important potentially invasive species were: Urochloa maxima, Melinis repens, Eragrostis ciliaris and Cynodon dactylon, all African grasses introduced for grazing. The IVI of the species was related to tree cover, leaf litter depth and surface stone cover for some species and, for others, to soil compaction, distance to major roads and elevation. Conclusions: The alien ruderal species clustered according to the general climate (temperate vs. tropical). Grasses of African origin are of highest concern as invasive species. Although most introductions are related to human disturbance, each species becomes dominant under certain environmental conditions. Thus, management programs must be specifically adjusted to each individual invasive alien.

Keywords: environmental variables, exotic plants, invasive herbs, ruderal weeds, Sierra de Manantlán