Spider responses to alien plant invasion: the effect of short- and long-term Chromolaena odorata invasion and management

11 August 2008

Invasions by alien plants into unspoiled ecosystems are a cause for concern because the pristine systems are important stores of biodiversity. Indeed, the introduction of non-indigenous species into protected areas is a direct threat to conservation. Consequently, it is fundamental to document the impact that alien invasive plants have on native communities and to determine if, and at whatrate, native communities re-establish following the removal of invasives. Chromolaena odorata is one of the most important invader species in the savanna biome in South Africa. It reduces vegetation heterogeneity in grasslands, savannas and forests. Spiders, as ecological indicators for change, were used to investigate the impact of (i) C. odorata invasions, (ii) C. odorata invasion durations, and (iii) the impact of clearing C. odorata on abundance, assemblage patterns, diversity and estimated species richness of spiders. The progressive invasion of C. odorata with increasing invasion duration brings with it changes in native spider abundance, assemblage patterns, diversity and estimated species richness. Native spider assemblages do re-establish after clearing C. odorata without further management intervention. Small lingering differences are observed between the native and the cleared sites, suggesting that other features of the habitat may have been affected by the invasion and clearing. Synthesis and applications: Alien clearance is an essential and invaluable management tool. There are a substantial number of programmes that aim to control alien invasive plants but very little is known about the way in which biodiversity recovers after alien plant removal. Our data show that the removal of alien invasive plants benefits biodiversity with immediate effects, highlighting that management should be carried out to control this invasive, even if the area has been invaded for a long period of time. These data are important for policy-forming and informing policy-makers that alien invasion and removal are critical for biodiversity conservation management.