Impacts of invasive alien plants on water quality, with particular emphasis on South Africa
Le Maitre, D.C.
van Wilgen, B.W.
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We review the current state of knowledge of quantified impacts of invasive alien plants on water quality, with a focus on South Africa. In South Africa, over 200 introduced plant species are regarded as invasive. Many of these species are particularly prominent in riparian ecosystems and their spread results in native species loss, increased biomass and fire intensity and consequent erosion, as well as decreased river flows. Research on the impact of invasive alien plants on water resources has historically focused on water quantity. However, although invasive alien plants also affect the quality of water, this aspect has not been well documented. Alien invasive plants increase evaporation rates, and reduce stream flow and dilution capacity. The biomass inputs of alien invasive plants, especially nitrogen fixers such as Acacia spp., alter nutrient cycles and can elevate nutrient concentrations in groundwater. Alien plant invasions alter the fire regimes in invaded areas by changing the size, distribution and plant chemistry of the biomass. More intense fires increase soil erosion and thereby decrease water quality. In contrast to riparian invasions, aquatic invasive plants have been more extensively studied in South Africa and their impacts on water quality have been relatively well monitored. Water quality in South Africa is rapidly deteriorating, and all factors that influence this deterioration need to be taken into account when formulating actions to address the problem. The changes in water quality brought about by alien plant invasions can exacerbate the already serious water quality problems.