Distribution of alien vs. native plant species in roadside communities along an altitudinal gradient in Tenerife and Gran Canaria (Canary Islands)
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Roadside plant communities were studied along two roads following an altitudinal gradient in Gran Canaria and Tenerife (Canary Islands). Our aim was to investigate variation in plant species richness, particularly of the alien flora, along a gradient from coastal shrubland to summit vegetation (1950m a.s.l. in Gran Canaria, 2300m in Tenerife) in relation to variation in habitat factors (altitude, habitat structure, roadside disturbance, distance to urban nuclei). We compared different species groups that were classified in terms of their biogeographical status, origin and life form. Altitude was the most important factor determining species richness and composition along both roadside transects. Alien plants showed a unimodal distribution pattern along the altitudinal gradient, with less species and lower abundance at low and high altitudes, and highest abundance at intermediate altitude. Alien plant species were also relatively more frequent near urban centres. The number of native and alien species was significantly positively correlated along the altitudinal gradient. Both alien and native, non-endemic species showed differences in their distribution along the altitudinal gradient according to their biogeographical affinities and climatic tolerances. Despite considerable differences in species pools these patterns were consistent among the two islands. Environmental (abiotic) stress is proposed as a primary, altitude-related factor acting as a filter against most alien plants at coastal and highmountain altitudes. A higher frequency or intensity of disturbance at intermediate altitudes may be a further causal factor promoting alien plants in this zone. Future management efforts to control alien plants along roads should, therefore, concentrate on intermediate altitudinal zones of the higher Canary Islands.