Determining the invasive status of Australian Acacia species in South Africa, and the potential for eradicating species with limited distributions
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While widespread invasions of Australian acacia species (wattles) have been fairly well documented, very little is known about species that have no substantial commercial value or those that are not well-established invaders yet. South Africa has the highest number of invasive wattle species in the world. These have had negative impacts on the environment and socio-economy. However, the last detailed inventory of the group in South Africa was based on data collated forty years ago. In addition, there are several species with small naturalised populations that might pose a future risk. A recent study quantified different aspects of this “invasion debt” for wattles, both for South Africa and globally and found out that southern Africa has a large invasion debt. In Chapter 2 I aimed to determine how many Australian Acacia species are known to have been introduced to South Africa, which species are still present and what their status is. I visited herbaria, arboreta, botanical gardens and conducted field surveys in order to compile a list of introduced wattles, and used DNA barcoding to confirm the identity of these species. I found records for 114 wattle species introduced into South Africa, but I found the presence of only 50 species. Seventeen of these species are invasive (16 are in category E, one in category D2 in the Unified Framework for Biological Invasions); eight species have naturalised (category C3); and 25 species are present but are not known to produce seed in South Africa (category C1). Four of these occur in the Western Cape (three on the Cape Peninsula, A. piligera, A. retinodes and A. viscidula; 1 near Paarl, A. adunca) and two species, A. cultriformis, A. fimbriata in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. In Chapter 3, I focus on the potential to eradicate these six naturalised wattle species from South Africa. I carried out a systematic survey of populations and the surrounding areas. For each plant, I recorded plant canopy, height, stem basal diameter, presence or absence of reproductive structures and GPS coordinates. I then cut or pulled out the plants. I assessed the risk posed by these species using Australian weed risk protocol and lastly, I determined the current size of the seedbank for these species. Risk assessment showed that all of these species have high potential impact, iii hence, they should be considered as a threat. All of these species except A. retinodes can reach reproductive maturity within a year and three of these species have large seedbanks. If control efforts can continue to prevent reproduction, eradiation will be a matter of reducing the seed banks across the limited distributions for these species. I conclude that eradicating five of the species is feasible and annual clearing resurveys are recommended in order to prevent production of seeds. Acacia cultriformis was clearly at some point used in the ornamental plant trade and there are many isolated populations. This makes it difficult to find all plants and eradication is unfeasible. I conclude with Chapter 4, where I provided recommendations for listing and management.
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