The genus Asparagus includes at least six invasive species in Australia. Asparagus aethiopicus and A. africanus are invasive in subtropical Australia, and a third species, A. virgatus is naturalized and demonstrates localized spread in south east Queensland. To better understand how the attributes of these species contribute to their invasiveness, we compared fruit and seed traits, germination, seedling emergence, seed survival, and time-to-maturity. We further investigated dispersal ecology of A. africanus, examining the diet of a local frugivore, the figbird (Sphecotheres viridis) and the effect of gut passage on seedling emergence. Overall, A. aethiopicus was superior in germination and emergence, with the highest mean germination (98.8%) and emergence (94.5%) under optimal conditions and higher emergence (mean of 73.3%) across all treatments. In contrast, A. africanus had the lowest germination under optimal conditions (71.7%) and low mean seedling emergence (49.5%), but had fruits with the highest relative yield (ratio of dry pulp to fruit fresh weight) that were favored by a local frugivore. Figbirds consumed large numbers of A. africanus fruits (∼30% of all non-Ficus fruits), and seedling germination was not significantly affected by gut passage compared to unprocessed fruits. Asparagus virgatus germinated poorly under cool, light conditions (1.4%) despite a high optimum mean (95.0%) and had low mean performance across emergence treatments (36.3%). The species also had fruits with a low pulp return for frugivores. For all species, seed survival declined rapidly in the first 12 mo and fell to < 3.2% viability at 36 mo. On the basis of the traits considered, A. virgatus is unlikely to have the invasive potential of its congeners. Uniformly short seed survival times suggest that weed managers do not have to contend with a substantial persistent soil-stored seed bank, but frugivore-mediated dispersal beyond existing infestations will present a considerable management challenge.
Nomenclature: Basket asparagus, Asparagus aethiopicus L. [syn. Protasparagus aethiopicus (L.) Oberm., Asparagus lanceus Thunb., Asparagus sprengeri Regel, Asparagus densiflorus (Kunth) Jessop]; climbing asparagus, Asparagus africanus Lam. [syn. Protasparagus africanus (Lam.) Oberm]; Asparagus fern, Asparagus virgatus (Baker) Oberm.; figbird, Sphecotheres viridis Viellot.