Invasive species and their link to wildfires: a conversation with Dr Rafael García
“If there is no human activity, there is no biological invasion. Everything combines in favour of the establishment and continuity of these species in suitable climate areas, high population density and abundant productive, farming and forestry activity”
Rafael García is an Academic Collaborator at the Faculty of Forestry Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, and Applied Science Researcher at the Biological Invasion Laboratory (LIB) and research associate of the Wine, Climate Change and Biodiversity Programme (VCCB). He studies the ecology of invasive plant populations, particularly their impact on and interaction with other disturbances, such as wildfires. He also studies the applicability of management and control strategies for invasive exotic species.
Rafael García explains that in Chile there are three types of non-native species. Exotic species, i.e., any non-native species introduced into the country. Naturalised or alien species able to live autonomously, spreading away from crops and gardens, without depending on humans. And invasive species, which are naturalised species that become abundant and generally have an environmental and economic effect. The latter are one of the current factors that affect biodiversity in our country, as well as wildfires. They each cause an impact and they are also able to interact. Furthermore, we should first add climate change; it modifies the scenario from normal to extreme conditions, for example droughts or heavy rains. And, second, land use change in areas hit by fires caused by rapid land degradation. As a result, forests do not naturally recover and invasive species proliferate. García asserts that, although a plant must have certain characteristics to become invasive, it is also going to depend on how it behaves in a specific ecosystem. “In other words, not because a species has already been invasive in an area, it is going to be invasive everywhere. There are several factors that will determine its success. It is not the same to put an invasive species in the middle of a closed native forest, where there are many species competing with it, then to put the same species in a degraded environment, with recurrent fires, near a road. Here the probability of success is different.” Furthermore, “the more diversity, the more controlled the ecosystem, the likelihood of invasions, pests or hazardous fires will be lower;” and, depending on where the species is found, it will be the tool to use for its control.