Assessing the invasiveness of Acacia stricta and Acacia implexa: is eradication an option?
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This thesis investigates the invasiveness and current status of two Acacia species recently identified as invaders in South Africa in order to determine the feasibility of their eradication. Australian acacias are among South Africa's worst invasive species and many have had widespread damaging impacts on native ecosystems. In addition to widespread species, several acacias still exist as small isolated populations in the country and have been targeted for eradication in order to prevent potential widespread impacts. This work assesses Acacia implexa (Chapter 2) and Acacia stricta (Chapter 3) as potential eradication targets by quantifying the extent of their invasion in South Africa, assessing the risk they pose to the country and evaluating the feasibility of their eradication based on estimated costs of clearing. Results of formal risk assessments show that both A. implexa and A. stricta should be considered high risk species, and bioclimatic model predictions indicate that both species have large potential ranges in South Africa. Detailed population surveys found that A. implexa and A. stricta each occur at several distinct localities all in the Western Cape Province. Acacia implexa populations were found at three sites (Tokai, Wolseley and Stellenbosch) where they have densified by means of vegetative suckering allowing A. implexa to outcompete native vegetation. No evidence of large seed banks of A. implexa were found, however vigorous resprouting following damage makes the control of A. implexa difficult. Acacia stricta was found at nine localities all in the Knysna area of the Garden Route, where populations are spreading along disturbed roadsides in plantations. Acacia stricta produces large amounts of seeds and can accumulate large seed banks. Seed spread is most likely due to large-scale soil movement by road maintenance vehicles which can easily lead to the establishment of new populations. We therefore used a predictive risk mapping approach based on the association of A. stricta to roadsides and disturbed plantations to enable effective searching to detect all infestations of A. stricta. Based on the high risk of both species and the limited range sizes of the currently known populations, we recommend that A. implexa and A. stricta remain targets for eradication. Management strategies proposed for these species (Chapter 4) include clearing on an annual (in the case of A. stricta) or biannual (for A. implexa) basis to prevent seed production, and targeted awareness campaigns at a national scale to determine whether our current knowledge of the extents of A. implexa and A. stricta are accurate. This work has shown that detailed assessments of species at intermediate stages of invasion is an important initial step in an eradication attempt, and better understanding of species specific invasion characteristics can help to improve management and potentially increase the probability of success of eradication.