Review on Invasive Tree of Heaven ( Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle) Conflicting Values: Assessment of Its Ecosystem Services and Potential Biological Threat
Globally, invasions by alien plants are rapidly increasing in extent and severity, leading to large-scale ecosystem degradation. One of the most widespread invasive alien plant species in Europe and North America, Tree of Heaven ( Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle) was introduced intentionally for use as an ornamental plant in the 18th century. Since then, it has spread and is now frequently found in a number of countries. Today, Tree of Heaven is considered one of the worst invasive plant species in Europe and is also listed as invasive in North America and many other countries. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is one of many systems trying to list and categorize biological services to humans and to provide a tool for identifying services delivered by natural ecosystems. Invasive species have generally caused degradation of the services, have a major impact on the environment, and are threatening biodiversity and reducing overall species abundance and diversity. On the other hand, some invasive species can provide services useful to human well-being. In the present review A. altissima impacts on ecosystems are identified and positive influences on some ecosystem services are weighed against the negative effects on the environment and human health. The aim of the present review is to resume the general knowledge of A. altissima, group available references on distribution and ecology according to countries, compare ecosystem services provided or enhanced by A. altissima presence and the negative effects it causes, identify gaps in current knowledge, and give recommendations for future lines of research.