The effects of an invasive alien plant (Chromolaena odorata) on large African mammals
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Alien plants have invaded most ecosystem types (terrestrial, fresh water and marine) and are responsible for the loss of irreplaceable natural services on which humankind relies. They alter food quantity, quality and accessibility, and may result in declines in native species richness, which may ultimately result in extinction. For an effective management of invasive alien plants, it is important to understand the effects that such plants have on all levels of biodiversity. However, the effects that invasive alien plants, such as the Triffid weed (Chromolaena odorata), have on mammalian biodiversity, especially large mammalian species, are not well-known, although they play major ecological roles in areas such as nutrient cycling. Also, little is known about the recovery of the ecosystem following alien plant removal. This study investigated the effects of C. odorata invasion on large mammalian herbivores in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and whether clearing of this plant helped in rehabilitating the habitat. We used track counts to estimate and compare species richness, diversity and abundance indices for large mammalian species between areas with differing C. odorata invasion durations (ca 2 years, ca 10 years, ca 20 years), areas with differing clearing times (cl < 2 years, cl 3–5 years) and an area without any history of C. odorata invasion as a control. The results from this study show that large mammalian species utilised the uninvaded and the cleared areas more than the invaded areas. Species richness, abundance and diversity decreased with increasing invasion duration and cleared areas showed an increasing species richness and abundance. We conclude that this invasive alien plant modifies habitats and their removal does aid in the restoration of the ecosystem.
- RESEARCH: Somers M