Ecology and management of alien plant invasions in South African fynbos: Accommodating key complexities in objective decision making

21 October 2009

Invasive alien trees and shrubs pose significant threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services in South African fynbos ecosystems. An ambitious initiative, the Working for Water program, commenced in 1995 to reduce the extent and impact of plant invasions. Despite substantial progress, the problem remains immense, and innovative ways of improving the efficiency of control operations are urgently needed. This study sought to develop a robust conceptual framework for effective management of the most important invasive alien plant (IAP) species. Two methods were applied in exploring the complexity of problems, thereby identifying appropriate response strategies. The DPSIR (Driving forces-Pressure-State-Impacts-Responses) framework and the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) tool were used to design a strategy for prioritizing management actions. This strategy considers explicitly the most influential factors that determine the distribution, abundance, spread and impacts of IAPs. Efficient management of IAPs is constrained by multiple interacting environmental and socio-economic factors. Factors related to the fire-prone nature of the ecosystem and the characteristics of the invasive stands emerged as pivotal features for setting spatially-explicit priorities for management. Results of the analyses provide an objective and quantifiable perspective for improving the management efficiency. We conclude that considerable progress in controlling the spread of IAPs in fynbos ecosystems could be achieved by better coordination of management practices and by improving the quality of species distribution data.