Analysing the Risks Posed by Biological Invasions to South Africa
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Studies of the impact of alien species on the environment are increasingly being carried out, and there has been ongoing debate about how to standardise the description of these impacts. This chapter evaluates the state of knowledge on the impacts of alien species on biodiversity in South Africa based on different assessment methods. Despite South Africa being one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, there have been very few studies that formally document the impacts of alien species on biodiversity. Most of what is known is based on expert opinion, and consequently the level of confidence in the estimates of the magnitude of these impacts is low. However, it is clear that a significant number of alien species cause major negative impacts, and that there is cause for serious concern. There is a growing global effort to assess all alien species with standardised protocols to alleviate the problem of comparing impacts measured using different approaches. Formal assessments have been done for a few alien species in South Africa, but most naturalised and invasive species have not been evaluated, and, we suspect, for most alien species there has been no attempt, as yet, to document their impacts. However, red-listing processes found that alien species were frequently included as a significant extinction risk for several native species of fish, amphibians, and plants. There are very few studies that cover the combined impacts of co-occurring alien species in particular areas, and these studies could provide the rationale for regulation and management, which is often absent. While reductions due to alien species in the value of ecosystem services, the productivity of rangelands, and biodiversity intactness are relatively low at present these impacts are expected to grow rapidly as more invasive species enter a stage of exponential growth.