What lies beneath? The pattern and abundance of the subterranean tuber bank of the invasive liana cat's claw creeper, Macfadyena unguis-cati (Bignoniaceae)

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Australian Journal of Botany


Cat’s claw creeper, Macfadyena unguis-cati (L.) Gentry (Bignoniaceae) is a major environmental weed of riparian areas, rainforest communities and remnant natural vegetation in coastal Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. In densely infested areas, it smothers standing vegetation, including large trees, and causes canopy collapse. Quantitative data on the ecology of this invasive vine are generally lacking. The present study examines the underground tuber traits of M. unguis-cati and explores their links with aboveground parameters at five infested sites spanning both riparian and inland vegetation. Tubers were abundant in terms of density (~1000 per m2), although small in size and low in level of interconnectivity. M. unguis-cati also exhibits multiple stems per plant. Of all traits screened, the link between stand (stem density) and tuber density was the most significant and yielded a promising bivariate relationship for the purposes of estimation, prediction and management of what lies beneath the soil surface of a given M. unguis-cati infestation site. The study also suggests that new recruitment is primarily from seeds, not from vegetative propagation as previously thought. The results highlight the need for future biological-control efforts to focus on introducing specialist seed- and pod-feeding insects to reduce seed-output.

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