Risk assessment of riparian plant invasions into protected areas

28 March 2007

Protected areas are becoming increasingly isolated. River corridors represent crucial links to the surrounding landscape but are also major conduits for invasion of alien species. We developed a framework to assess the risk that alien plants in watersheds adjacent to a protected area will invade the protected area along rivers. The framework combines species-and landscape- level approaches and has five key components: (1) definition of the geographical area of interest, (2) delineation of the domain into ecologically meaningful zones, (3) identification of the appropriate landscape units, (4) categorization of alien species and mapping of their distribution and abundance, and (5)definition of management options. The framework guides the determination of species distribution and abundance through successive, easily followed steps, providing the means for the assessment of areas of concern. We applied the framework to Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa. We recorded 231 invasive alien plant species (of which 79 were major invaders) in the domain. The KNP is facing increasing pressure from alien species in the upper regions of the drainage areas of neighboring watersheds. On the basis of the climatic modeling, we showed that most major riparian invaders have the ability to spread across the KNP should they be transported down the rivers. With this information, KNP managers can identify areas for proactive intervention, monitoring, and resource allocation. Even for a very large protected area such as the KNP, sustainable management of biodiversity will depend heavily on the response of land managers upstream managing alien plants. We suggest that this framework is applicable to plants and other passively dispersed species that invade protected areas situated at the end of a drainage basin.