Deforestation and agricultural land degradation in tropical regions can create conditions for growth of perennial plant species forming mono‐dominated patches (MDP). Such species might limit forest regeneration, and their proliferation forces the abandonment of fields and subsequent deforestation to establish new fields. Therefore, identifying factors fostering MDP species is critical for biodiversity conservation in human‐modified landscapes. Here, we propose a conceptual framework to identify such factors and apply it to the case of Pteridium aquilinum (bracken fern), a light‐demanding species, tolerant of low soil fertility and fire. We hypothesize that bracken proliferation is promoted by land‐use changes that increase light availability, especially in sites with low soil fertility and land uses involving fire. We assessed this idea using agricultural fields in southeastern Mexico with different land‐use change histories and quantifying prevalence and cover of bracken. Five different land‐use change histories resulted from transitions among forest, crop, pasture, and fallow field stages. Of the 133 fields sampled, 71 percent had P. aquilinum; regression tree analysis indicated that 65 percent of inter‐field variation in prevalence and 90 percent in cover was explained by land‐use change history and soil type. Maximum prevalence, cover, and rates of increase in bracken were found on fields with low fertility sandy/clay soils, which had been used for crops and pasture, were frequently burned, and had high levels of light. Fields on fertile alluvial soil never used for pasture were bracken‐free. Agriculture promoting high light environments on less fertile soils is a major cause of bracken proliferation and likely that of other MDP species.
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