The status of alien bamboos in South Africa
Le Roux, J.J.
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The growing interest in commercial cultivation of bamboos (Poaceae subfamily Bambusoideae) has led to the introduction of new alien species into South Africa. The rate at which bamboos are being planted in South Africa is a cause for concern because of the impacts of bamboo invasions in other parts of the world. To understand the risks associated with new introductions and new plantings, we assess the outcomes of past introductions of bamboos into South Africa. To this end we: (1) produce an inventory of alien bamboo taxa; (2) assess the distribution of bamboos; (3) determine the rate of spread of bamboo at a site with a high density of naturalised stands; and (4) evaluate the current regulatory status of alien bamboos in South Africa. We used a combination of expert opinion, literature, historical records of populations, and public participation to produce a species list and locate populations of alien bamboos. We also attempted to confirm species identities using DNA barcoding. We found that 28 currently-accepted species of bamboo have been recorded in South Africa. However, we have little confidence in this estimate, as 20 of the species could not be confirmed or identified as present in the country. Bamboos are an inherently challenging group to identify using vegetative material, and DNA barcoding was inconclusive. The distribution of bamboos across the country varied with the type or lineage (e.g. herbaceous, tropical or temperate) and the source of information (e.g. herbarium records, in-field observation or public contribution). Although alien bamboos are naturalised at several sites, we found no large invasive stands nor evidence of widespread negative environmental impacts. Nonetheless, we recommend caution regarding future introductions of bamboos for commercial cultivation, as the nature of the plantings will likely differ from the historical situation in both the location, configuration, and the scale of cultivation, and as new species are likely to be introduced. We propose several changes to the current listing of bamboo taxa in national legislation pertaining to alien and invasive species.