Evidence, perceptions, and trade-offs associated with invasive alien plant control in the Table Mountain National Park, South Africa
van Wilgen, B.W.
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The Table Mountain National Park is a 265 km2 protected area embedded within a city of 3.5 million people. The park contains an extremely diverse flora with many endemic species, and has been granted World Heritage Site status in recognition of this unique biodiversity. Invasive alien plants are arguably the most significant threat to the conservation of this biodiversity, and the past decade has seen the implementation of aggressive programs aimed at the removal of invasions by these plants. These invasive alien plants include several species of trees, notably pines (Pinus species) and eucalypts (Eucalyptus species), which historically have been grown in plantations, and which are utilized for recreation by the city’s residents. In addition, many citizens regard the trees as attractive and ecologically beneficial, and for these reasons the alien plant control programs have been controversial. I briefly outline the legal obligations to deal with invasive alien plants, the history of control operations and the scientific rationale for their implementation, and the concerns that have been raised about the operations. Evidence in support of control includes the aggressive invasive nature of many species, and the fact that they displace native biodiversity (often irreversibly) and have negative impacts on hydrology, fire intensity, and soil stability. Those against control cite aesthetic concerns, the value of pine plantations for recreation, the (perceived) unattractive nature of the treeless natural vegetation, and the (incorrect) belief that trees bring additional rainfall. The debate has been conducted through the press, and examples of perceptions and official responses are given. Despite opposition, the policy promoting alien plant removal has remained in place, and considerable progress has been made towards clearing pine plantations and invasive populations. This conservation success story owes much to political support, arising largely from job creation, and a strong body of scientific evidence that could be cited in support of the program.