Icons in peril: invasive alien plants in African protected areas
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Protected areas in Africa are global conservation icons, attracting millions of tourists a year. However, these areas are being threatened by a growing human population making increasing demands on the natural capitol being conserved. Moreover, global environmental change, of which biological invasions are a key concern, pose significant threats to the function of ecosystems and their constituents. Other than in a few regions, primarily in South Africa, little is known about alien plant invasions in protected areas across the continent. In order to present a first approximation of the threat of plant invasions to protected areas across Africa, we present the information we could find by drawing on published literature, grey literature and personal observations. We also present six case studies from prominent protected areas across Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These case studies aim to illustrate what is known in different regions and the key concerns and management approaches, thereby providing examples that may facilitate shared learning. Where information is available it suggests that some species are likely to be widespread, impacting severely on indigenous species diversity. If protected areas are to be successful in carrying out their mandate of biodiversity conservation, and increasingly, revenue creation, long-term management of invasive plants is essential. However, in developing countries, which characterise much of Africa, resources are severely lacking. Where funds are available for conservation these are often channelled to other aspects of protected area management, such as anti-poaching. Protected areas in Africa include a number of unique attributes that can provide natural laboratories for research on basic ecological principles of invasions, while the research can, in turn, contribute directly to the needs of the protected area agencies.