An assessment of the evolution, costs and effectiveness of alien plant control operations in Kruger National Park, South Africa
van Wilgen, B.W.
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Alien plants were first recorded in 1937 in the 2 million ha Kruger National Park (KNP, a savanna protected area in South Africa), and attempts to control them began in the mid-1950s. The invasive alien plant control program expanded substantially in the late 1990s, but its overall efficacy has not been determined. We present an assessment of invasive alien plant control operations over several decades in KNP. We based our assessment on available information from a range of control programs funded from various sources, including national public works programs, KNP operational funds, and foreign donor funds. Over ZAR 350 million (~ US$ 27 million) has been spent on control interventions between 1997 and 2016. We found evidence of good progress with the control of several species, notably Opuntia stricta, Sesbania punicea, Lantana camara and several aquatic weeds, often because of effective biological control. On the other hand, we found that over one third (40%) of the funding was spent on species that have subsequently been recognised as being of lower priority, most of which were alien annual weeds. The allocation of funds to non-priority species was sometimes driven by the need to meet additional objectives (such as employment creation), or by perceptions about relative impact in the absence of documented evidence. We also found that management goals were limited to inputs (funds disbursed, employment created, and area treated) rather than to ecological outcomes, and progress was consequently not adequately monitored. At a species level, four out of 36 species were considered to be under complete control, and a further five were under substantial control. Attempts to control five annual species were all considered to be ineffective. On the basis of our findings, we recommend that more studies be done to determine impacts associated with individual invasive alien species; that the criteria used to prioritise invasive alien species be documented based on such assessments, so that management can justify a focus on priority species; and that funding be re-directed to those species that clearly pose greater threats, and for which other solutions (such as biological control) are not an option.