Species richness of alien plants in South Africa: environmental correlates and the relationship with indigenous plant species richness
van Rensburg, B.J.
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This study explores the correlates of alien plant species richness in South Africa at the scale of quarter-degree squares (QDS; ≈ 25 x 27 km; 675km2). We considered all alien plant species for which we had records and a subset of these – those that invade natural and semi-natural vegetation. The main source of data for species richness of indigenous and alien plant species was a national database based on herbarium specimens. For invasive alien species, data were from a national atlassing project. First, we explored the importance of energy availability and habitat heterogeneity as correlates of indigenous, alien and invasive alien plant species richness. Linear regression models showed that species richness in the three groups of plants was explained by the same variables: a principal component of climatic factors and topographic roughness were the top-ranking variables for all groups. Next, we examined the role of indigenous species richness together with a range of environmental and human-activity variables in explaining species richness of alien and invasive alien plants. Results reveal an interplay of natural features and variables that quantify the dimension of human activities. If indigenous species richness is ignored, human-activity variables are more strongly correlated with alien species richness than with invasive alien species richness. Numbers of alien and invasive species in QDSs are significantly correlated with indigenous plant species richness in the 1,597 QDSs selected for analysis, a pattern consistent with findings from other parts of the world. Analysis of residuals between observed and predicted values showed that patterns differed between biomes. The results are useful for planning long-term intervention policy at the national scale; they suggest that areas with rich native biodiversity will face a sustained onslaught from invasive alien species and that ongoing management actions will be required to reduce and mitigate impacts from biological invasions in these areas.