Lianas are known as both disturbance creators and beneficiaries, and through their high competitiveness for resources, they possess the potential to significantly affect forest ecosystems. Euonymus fortunei (Turcz.) Hand.-Mazz. (wintercreeper) is an evergreen liana that is steadily invading forests in eastern North America, disrupting native plant communities and altering ecosystem functions. Establishment in novel environments may be limited by dormancy-breaking and germination requirements, parameters for which little is known for many invasive species, but especially for wintercreeper. We examined the mechanisms of seed dormancy by conducting a “move-along” experiment using fresh (FR) and maternally persisting (MP) seeds. Additionally, we sought to characterize the nature of seed dispersal by birds by deploying seed traps within an invaded forest in central Kentucky. We report that wintercreeper seeds display conditional, nondeep physiological dormancy. Although germination occurs at a high percentage and rate after cold stratification, a cold period is only facultative to break dormancy. Although FR seeds had greater viability (98.6%) vs. MP seeds (85.7%), the latter experienced earlier germination (an average of 41 days, across all treatments). We observed the presence of polyembryos in 24.4% of germinating wintercreeper seeds. Our findings indicate that bird-mediated seed dispersal occurs throughout the winter from seeds that persist aboveground on maternal lianas. Taken altogether, these results suggest that wintercreeper is capable of long distance, animal-assisted dispersal as well as recruitment in areas with mild or nonexistent winters. These data contribute to the growing body of wintercreeper-invasion literature, bringing further attention to an emerging invader and aiding land managers in prioritizing management strategies in the prevention and eradication of this species.
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