A brief histoty of marine bio-invasions in South Africa

15 November 2010

Marine species have been introduced continuously into South Africa for more than 400 years, since the arrival of the first European explorers. Various waves of introduction can be identified over this period, each associated with a different mix of vectors. Early wooden vessels carried specialized wood-boring species, a rich external fouling community, plus semi-terrestrial species associated with dry ballast. Modem steel vessels continue to import fouling species, despite the use of anti-fouling paints, and may ply new routes, bringing additional introductions from novel locations. More modern waves of introduction are associated with use of ballast water and with marine aquaculture. Research on marine bio-invasions in South Africa has a short history, marked by a rapid rate of discovery of introductions. Some 86 marine species are currently regarded as introduced to the region, virith a further 39 considered cryptogenic, but this number is increasing rapidly. Moreover, many taxa and regions still remain inadequately explored, indicating that the current list remains far from complete. The reasons for under-reporting of introduced populations are discussed and include lack of sample coverage, misidentification of aliens as native species and erroneous redescriptions of aliens as new, indigenous species. However, the lack of taxonomic expertise across large sections of the biota remains the greatest impediment to progress.