A fine-scale assessment of the ecosystem service-disservice dichotomy in the context of urban ecosystems affected by alien plant invasions

11 February 2020

Background Natural resources within and around urban landscapes are under increasing pressure from ongoing urbanisation, and management efforts aimed at ensuring the sustainable provision of ecosystem services (ES) are an important response. Given the limited resources available for assessing urban ES in many cities, practical approaches for integrating ES in decision-making process are needed. Methods We apply remote sensing techniques (integrating LiDAR data with high-resolution multispectral imagery) and combined these with supplementary spatial data to develop a replicable approach for assessing the role of urban vegetation (including invasive alien plants) in providing ES and ecosystem disservices (EDS). We identify areas denoting potential management trade-offs based on the spatial distribution of ES and EDS using a local-scale case study in the city of Cape Town, South Africa. Situated within a global biodiversity hotspot, Cape Town must contend with widespread invasions of alien plants (especially trees and shrubs) along with complex socio-political challenges. This represents a useful system to examine the challenges in managing ES and EDS in the context of urban plant invasions. Results Areas of high ES provision (for example carbon sequestration, shade and visual amenity) are characterized by the presence of large trees. However, many of these areas also result in numerous EDS due to invasions of alien trees and shrubs – particularly along rivers, in wetlands and along the urban edge where tall alien trees have established and spread into the natural vegetation (for example increased water consumption, increased fire risk and reduced soil quality). This suggests significant trade-offs regarding the management of species and the ES and EDS they provide. Conclusions The approach applied here can be used to provide recommendations and to guide city planners and managers to fine-tune management interventions at local scales to maximise the provision of ES.