Biological Invasions in South Africa: an overview
van Wilgen, B.W.
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South Africa has much to offer as a location for the study of biological invasions. It is an ecologically diverse country comprised of nine distinct terrestrial biomes, four recognised marine ecoregions, and two sub-Antarctic Islands. The country has a rich and chequered socio-political history, and a similarly varied history of species introductions. There has been a long tradition of large-scale conservation in the country, and efforts to manage and regulate invasions began in the nineteenth century, with some notable successes, but many setbacks. With the advent of democracy in the early 1990s, South Africa established large alien species control programmes to meet the dual demands of poverty alleviation and conservation, and has since pioneered regulatory approaches to address invasions. In terms of research, South Africa has played an important role in the development of invasion science globally. It continues to have one of the most active communities anywhere in the world, with strengths in theoretical and applied invasion science, and world-leading expertise in specific sub-disciplines (e.g. the classical biological control of invasive plants). In this introductory chapter to the book “Biological Invasions in South Africa”, we highlight key events that have affected biological invasions, their management, and the research conducted over the past two centuries. In so doing, we build on earlier reviews—from a national situational review of the state of knowledge in 1986, culminating most recently with a comprehensive report on the status of biological invasions and their management at a national level in 2018. Our book comprises 31 chapters (including this one), divided into seven parts that examine where we have come from, where we are, how we got here, why the issue is important, what we are doing about it, what we have learnt, and where we may be headed. The book lists over 1400 alien species that have established outside of captivity or cultivation. These species cost the country at least US$1 billion per year (~ZAR 15 billion), and threaten South Africa’s unique biodiversity. The introduction and spread of alien species, the impacts that they have had, the benefits that they have brought, and the attempts to manage them have provided many opportunities for research. Documenting what we have learned from this unplanned experiment is a primary goal of this book. We hope this book will allow readers to better understand biological invasions in South Africa, and thereby assist them in responding to the challenge of addressing the problem.