Highways as corridors and habitats for the invasive common reed Phragmites australis in Quebec, Canada.
Roads provide suitable conditions for the establishment and growth of exotic species. Most roads are bordered by drainage ditches forming a network of linear wetlands. Drainage ditches may serve as habitats and corridors facilitating the spread of aquatic invaders into the intersected ecosystems. The common reed Phragmites australis is one of these aquatic invaders frequently found in marshes and drainage ditches along roads. We hypothesized that highways have acted as corridors for the dispersal of the common reed and have contributed to the invasion of North American wetlands by this species. We mapped the spatial distribution of the common reed along the highway network of the province of Quebec, Canada, where a large-scale invasion of this plant species has been reported since the 1960s. We also identified the genotype of common reed colonies using molecular tools and the main characteristics that favour the presence of the common reed in road ditches. Approximately 67% of the 1359 1-km highway sections surveyed during summer 2003 in Quebec had at least one common reed colony. End to end, common reed colonies totalled 324 km, i.e. 24% of the 1359 km surveyed. Common reed colonies located along the highways were largely (99%) dominated by the exotic (Eurasian) genotype (haplotype M). The common reed was more abundant along highways located in warm regions, with a sum of growing degree-days (>5°C, 12-month period) ≥1885, along highways built before the 1970s and in agricultural regions dominated by corn and soybean crops. Common reed colonies were larger when located along highways that were wide, built before the 1970s or in warm regions. This was particularly apparent if the roadside was bordered by a wetland. On the other hand, common reed colonies were more likely to be narrow when located near a woodland. Synthesis and applications. Several disturbances (de-icing salts, ditch digging and agricultural nitrogen input) favour the development of large common reed colonies along roads, some of them expanding out of roadsides, particularly in wetlands. Reducing disturbances, leaving (or planting) a narrow (a few metres) hedge of trees or shrubs along highways or planting salt-resistant shrubs in roadside ditches could be efficient ways to slow the expansion of common reed or to confine the species to roadsides.