Invasive alien plants in protected areas: threats, opportunities, and the way forward.
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The potential threats posed by biological invasions are widely appreciated, but the state of knowledge and level of management of invasive alien plants in protected areas differs considerably across the world. Research done on nature reserves as part of the international SCOPE programme on biological invasions in the 1980s showed the vulnerability of natural or undisturbed areas to invasions. Subsequent work, including the chapters in this book, shows the serious situation regarding plant invasions that prevails in many protected areas. Many invasive plants have, or have the potential to, greatly lessen the potential of protected areas to achieve the things they were proclaimed to do – provide refugia for species, habitats and the ecosystem services that they sustain. This brief synthesis discusses some emerging insights from protected areas of varying kinds and sizes, from the Azores, Australia, Chile, East and South Africa, Europe, Galapagos, India, Mediterranean Islands, New Zealand, Pacific Islands and Hawaii, Southern Ocean Islands, United States of America and the Western Indian Ocean Islands. Work in some protected areas has led to well-developed management and policy frameworks. In others, important insights have emerged on invasion mechanisms and the impacts of invasions. Although there is awareness of invasive alien plants in most of the 135 protected areas mentioned in this volume, better and more focused actions are urgently needed. This requires, among other things, improved capacity to prevent invasions and to react promptly to new incursions, and increasing efforts to manage well-established invasive species. Research to improve the understanding of invasion dynamics is essential. Full species lists are available only for a group of well-known protected areas. Updating species lists and distribution data is crucial for successful long-term management, as are collaborative networks, research groups, volunteers, and improved accessibility to resources such as online databases. Efforts to lessen the science-management divide are especially important in protected areas. One reason is that managers are usually required to implement invasive alien plant control programmes as part of general protected area management activities, and in many cases lack the knowledge and support for effective science-based management solutions. Overcoming this barrier is not trivial and will require partnerships between local, municipal, regional and national-level organizations and international non-profit NGOs and donor organisations.