In the southwestern United States, the nonnative athel pine (Tamarix aphylla) was presumed to be sterile and therefore not as likely to spread as its widely distributed, nonnative congener, T. ramosissima. However, at Lake Mead National Recreation Area (LMNRA) in southern Nevada, populations of T. aphylla have recently spread beyond their limited pre-1990 distribution and now form extensive monospecific stands. Over a 3-year period, we quantified seed production and germination from 60 T. aphylla trees at LMNRA. The annual mean seed production period was 50.6 days, and the mean potential germination (under laboratory conditions) was 22%, indicating that T. aphylla trees at LMNRA are capable of sexual reproduction in southern Nevada. No seeds germinated in field experiments, apparently because of high soil salt levels. However, seedling regeneration is becoming increasingly common at LMNRA. Tamarix aphylla trees occupied a distinct zone along the shoreline of Lake Mead, above T. ramosissima in elevation and below native Larrea tridentata communities, suggesting either competitive exclusion or differential resource utilization. The T. aphylla zone tended to have the highest mean values for total vegetation cover, leaf litter depth, soil salinity, soil moisture, pH, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, and soil organic matter. The capacity for sexual reproduction of this alien plant, combined with a suite of characteristics shared with the invasive T. ramosissima (e.g., drought tolerance and copious saline leaf litter), makes T. aphylla a potentially invasive species along the shores of LMNRA and other mesic areas in the desert Southwest.
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Vol. 66 • No. 2