Vulnerability of Selected Native and Invasive Woody Riparian Species to Streamflow Variability in the Western Cape Fynbos Ecosystem
Crous, Casparus Johannes
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Riparian ecosystems of the Mediterranean south-western Cape region are projected to experience significant decreases in streamflow due to climate change and increased demands for water associated with human demographic trends and increasing living standards. Aggravating this problem are woody invasive alien plants, such as Acacia mearnsii, whose impacts, including those on catchment water yields, have justified extensive eradication programmes such as Working for Water (WfW). WfW has been highly successful in managing invasive alien species in some areas, while at the same time enhancing the quality of life of poor South Africans. Unfortunately, the managers of these eradication initiatives often experience a lack of information on the species- and site-specific ecological properties that may aid in prioritising sites more prone to invasion, essentially inhibiting accurate management output. Knowledge, such as that associated with the possible future distribution of invasive species in a changing environment, may help to optimise eradication initiatives. I therefore determined whether woody plants portray different physiological (vulnerability to cavitation) and wood anatomical traits (wood density, vessel resistance to implosion, vessel lumen and wall diameters) across three prominent riparian zones in the south-western Cape that each differ in streamflow quantity – to gain a mechanistic understanding of how woody species, especially invasive species, adapt their hydraulic strategy across this proxy for water availability. Using factorial ANOVA’s, to distinguish any differences in plant physiological and wood anatomical responses to water availability within and between species, showed Acacia mearnsii having consistently higher drought-tolerance (lower P50 values and denser wood) compared to native species under reduced water availability. These results supported the significant variation in drought-tolerance strategies that exist within and between taxonomically different species across different environments. Water availability thus has a strong selective effect on functional traits of species; however, minimum water potentials were more useful in describing in situ hydrological conditions than streamflow. Additionally, a non-causal relationship between wood anatomical traits and drought-induced cavitation was observed. Therefore, using only wood anatomical measurements to assess drought-tolerance of species might not be accurate across all species. This mechanistic approach to assess the invasive potential of species under projected drier conditions has great practical value. It can be used to improve species selection for restoration initiatives, and is of great value for future use in prioritizing eradication programmes.