Assessing the association between pathways of alien plant invaders and their impacts in protected areas
van Wilgen, N.J.
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Protected areas face mounting pressures, including invasion by alien plant species. Scientifically sound information is required to advise invasive species management strategies, where early detection and rapid response is particularly important. One approach to this is to determine: (i) the relative importance of pathways of invasion by which a species is introduced, (ii) the range of likely impacts associated with each species, and (iii) the relationship between pathways and impacts, to assess the relative threats posed by different pathways of alien species introductions. This assessment was performed on 139 alien plants that are invasive across the South African National Parks (19 national parks, covering ~39,000 km2), and based on available literature and expert opinion, known to have negative ecological impacts. For each species the likelihood of being introduced by each of eight pathways, and of having negative impacts in each of 13 identified impact categories, was assessed. The similarity of impact and pathway types between species was assessed using the Jaccard index and cladograms. Differences in the prevalence of impacts and pathways and relationships between these were assessed using a Chi-squared contingency and Generalised Linear Model. Nearly 80% of the species are ornamental plants and about 60% are also dispersed by rivers, highlighting the importance of managing ornamental species and surveillance along rivers in preventing future invasions. As to the impacts, ~95% of the species compete directly with native species and 70% change the physical structure of the environment. The majority of species exert multiple impacts, with 70% of species assessed having five or more impacts. There was a significant positive relationship between the number of pathways via which a species can be introduced into an area and the number of potential impacts they can have. This suggests that species using multiple pathways reach a wider range of suitable habitats, increasing the potential for different kinds of impacts over a wider area.