The distribution and status of alien plants in a small South African town
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1. The invasion of alien plants into natural ecosystems in South Africa is a substantial conservation concern. The primary reason for the introduction of alien plants has been ornamental horticulture, and urban centres are the main sources of invasions. Small towns have high edge: area ratios which favour the launching of invasions into surrounding areas. There is, however, a shortage of information at the global and local scale on the occurrence, distribution, and status of alien plants in an urban context. 2. We surveyed all alien plants in the small town of Riebeek Kasteel in the Western Cape, South Africa, to gain insights on where to find alien plant species, and to assist with future studies and the management of alien floras in small towns. 3. We surveyed publically accessible land, recording the abundance of all alien plant species every 10m of road. A species accumulation curve was compiled to show the rate at which new species were encountered. This approach was used to test the efficacy of different sampling strategies. 4. Two hundred and ninety eight alien plant taxa were recorded in five land-use types. Half of the alien plant species recorded were naturalised within the town, while a third were invasive in the region (the Berg River catchment). 95% of the taxa, including many invasive species, occurred in gardens or adjoining road-sides, highlighting the invasion risk posed by ornamental horticulture. The most efficient way of collecting data on alien plant distribution for this town would have been to survey roads in the town centre first, rather than urban-edge roads and industrial areas. 5. Synthesis and applications: The gardens of small towns in South Africa harbour a high diversity of alien plants, many of which are already invasive or are potentially invasive. As the alien flora differs markedly between gardens, it is difficult to extrapolate generalised rules of thumb on where to survey. This means that compiling accurate inventories of alien plants in urban areas requires substantial search effort and taxonomic expertise.