Potential Ecological Distribution of Alien Invasive Species and Risk Assessment: a Case Study of Buffel Grass in Arid Regions of Mexico
Abstract: Alien invasive species represent a severe risk to biodiversity. Such is the case of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.), a native species of Southern Asia and East Africa, which was introduced to the United States and Mexico for use in improved pasture. Here we present a coarse-grain approach to determine areas where buffel grass can potentially invade in Mexico. Potential species distributions, suitable for an invasion by buffel grass, were obtained through genetic algorithms. We generated the algorithms with databases of herbaria specimens; environmental digital covers of climate, soil texture, and vegetation; and the program called Genetic Algorithm for Rule-Set Prediction. This spatial modeling approach was validated with a case study for the state of Sonora, Mexico, where the occurrence of buffel grass has been proven. The most threatened vegetation types for the specific case of Sonora were desert scrub, mesquite woodlands, and tropical deciduous forest. The model prediction agreed with the field observations recorded in Sonora and allowed us to apply the same procedure to produce a map of the potential sites of buffel grass invasion for Mexico. The areas at risk of invasion mostly occurred in desert scrub, located in the arid and semiarid regions of northern Mexico. This methodology provides an initial baseline for assessment, prevention, and management of alien species that may become invasive under certain environmental conditions. Additionally this modeling approach provides a tool for policy makers to use in making decisions on land-use management practices when alien species are involved.