Level of environmental threat posed by horticultural trade in Cactaceae
Le Roux, J.J.
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Ornamental horticulture has been identified as an important threat to plant biodiversity and is a major pathway for plant invasions worldwide. In this context, the family Cactaceae is particularly challenging because it is considered the fifth most threatened large taxonomic group in the world; several species are among the most widespread and damaging invasive species; and Cactaceae is one of the most popular horticultural plant groups. Based on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna and the 11 largest online auction sites selling cacti, we documented the international cactus trade. To provide an in-depth look at the dynamics of the industry, we surveyed the businesses involved in the cactus trade in South Africa (a hotspot of cactus trade and invasions). We purchased seeds of every available species and used DNA barcoding to identify species to the genus level. Although <20% of this trade involved threatened species and <3% involved known invasive species, many species were identified by a common name. However, only 0.02% of the globally traded cacti were collected from wild populations. Despite a large commercial network, all South African imports (of which 15% and 1.5% were of species listed as threatened and invasive, respectively) came from the same source. With DNA barcoding, we identified 24% of the species to genus level. Based on our results, we believe that if trade restrictions are placed on the small proportion of cacti that are invasive and there is no major increase in harvesting of native populations, then the commercial trade in cactus poses a negligible environmental threat. However, there are currently no effective methods for easily identifying which cacti are traded, and both the illicit harvesting of cacti from the wild and the informal trade in invasive taxa pose on-going conservation challenges.