Conservation implications of the invasion of southern Africa by alien organisms

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Alien species known to be invading untransformed ecosystems in southern Africa, and, more particularly, those inside nature reserves, were identified. The extent and ecological impacts of these invasions were assessed. Their control within reserves was also evaluated. Research approaches used were; literature review (which included an international review), a detailed questionnaire survey of alien plant invasions in 307 reserves, rapid field surveys of 60 reserves, intensive case studies of four reserves (Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, Pella Fynbos Research Site), international comparison with case-study reserves in other savanna and Mediterranean-type biomes, and field evaluation of control methods for alien plants in the two fynbos reserves. Ecological impacts of alien invasions throughout the subcontinent were determined from historical changes in vertebrate populations, including detailed studies of three native birds (Bostrychia hagedash, Lybius leucomelas, Ploceus velatus) expanding their ranges, partly in response to the spread of invasive alien trees. The results are presented in eight chapters, comprising 26 published (or submitted) papers, an introduction and a concluding summary. One chapter covers contributions to the theoretical understanding of invasion processes, including a prediction of their interaction with rapid global environmental change. The conclusion is reached that alien invasions pose a serious challenge to nature conservation in the region. Mostly this comes from alien woody plants but the importance of herbaceous plants has possibly been underestimated regionally. Introduced mammalian pathogens and predatory fishes have also had important effects. Alien invertebrates have been poorly studied (the ant lridomyrmex humilis poses a significant threat). Alien terrestrial vertebrates have generally had only localized effects. Alien plant invasions affect all biomes, with riparian ecosystems being regionally threatened. Mesic biomes and habitats are usually more invaded by alien plants than xeric equivalents. 281 alien vascular plant species were recorded invading vegetation within nature reserves (an average of 12 species per reserve) with an additional 200 species being possibly present but unrecorded (an average of 18 species per reserve). By 1984, the 54 plant taxa recorded invading reserves most frequently were estimated, on average, to be present in 30% of the 11cm x 11cm grid cells of the reserves they were invading. The average potential future extent of these invasions was estimated to be 51%. Control had, on average, been initiated for two plant species in each reserve and 18% of these operations had already resulted in complete eradication. Reported control costs were particularly high for the woody plants which pose a serious threat to the highly endemic flora of the fynbos biome, on average R48 284/reserve (R1,8/ha = US Dollar 1,2/ha) in 1983. These high costs were validated experimentally. A computerized optimization model, aimed at minimizing the costs of controlling the most intractable shrub invader of fynbos, Acacia saligna, was developed from the results of a field experiment at the Pella site. Practical field- scale control of these invasions was assessed to be feasible, using the results of repeated monitoring of permanent plots in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Control strategies and regional priorities, based on the theoretical and practical insights gained from this study, are proposed. Even though the intensity of invasions is likely to increase in the foreseeable future, in part as a result of rapid man-induced changes in global climate, it is predicted that these invasions can be controlled if the correct approaches are adopted timeously. Failure to control them, will ensure that the extinction rate of native species will markedly increase and that ecosystem functioning will be altered significantly at a local scale and, conceivably also, at a regional scale.

Bibliography: pages 792-808.