A decision-making framework for restoring riparian zones degraded by invasive alien plants in South Africa
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Riparian habitats in many parts of South Africa are severely degraded by invasive alien plants, especially trees. These invasions reduce water yields from catchments and affect riverine functioning and biodiversity. Initiatives are under way countrywide to clear alien plants from watercourses and surrounding catchments. Current understanding of key processes that regulate riparian functioning and define options for restoration is rudimentary. We review the impacts of riparian invasions and identify factors limiting the recovery of natural vegetation following alien clearance. We propose a framework of strategic interventions for optimizing restoration success. The framework identifies abiotic and biotic barriers to restoration at the scales of catchments and local reaches. In highly transformed catchments, interventions at the reach scale may fail if important barriers at the catchment scale are not addressed. The extent to which propagule supply and microsite conditions inhibit vegetation recovery is unknown. We also know little of the relative importance of dispersing vegetative propagules, dispersing seeds and soil-stored seed banks in vegetation dynamics, particularly after severe disturbances such as dense invasion by alien plants. The importance of geomorphological and hydrological factors in mediating recovery of riparian vegetation has not been adequately explored for all climatic areas in South Africa. More research is needed to determine the influence of different alien species and clearing treatments on the recovery of riparian vegetation. The literature strongly suggests that in highly alien-transformed catchments, the re-introduction of riparian species is required to promote recovery and suppress re-invasion. However, such interventions are unlikely to be widely implemented unless the cost: benefit ratios are favourable.