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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10204/2121

Title: Impact of invading alien plants on surface water resources in South Africa: a preliminary assessment
Authors: Le Maitre, DC
Versfeld, DB
Chapman, RA
Keywords: Alien plants invasions
Water resources
South Africa
Issue Date: Jul-2000
Publisher: Water Research Commission
Citation: Le Maitre, DC, Versfeld, DB and Chapman, RA. 2000. Impact of invading alien plants on surface water resources in South Africa: a preliminary assessment. Water Research Commission, vol. 26(3), pp 397-408
Abstract: The impacts of the widespread invasions by alien plants in South Africa are increasingly recognised. Most of the past concern has been about the impacts on conservation areas, other areas of natural vegetation and on agricultural productivity. The potential impact of invading alien woody plants on water resources was known to be serious but there has been no information available to evaluate the significance of these water losses across the whole country. This paper reports on the results of a preliminary survey aimed at obtaining an overview of the extent, impacts and implications of alien plant invasions at a national and regional level for South Africa and Lesotho. Data on the extent and location of the invaded areas were obtained from a variety of sources including detailed field mapping, mainly at a 1:250 000 scale with some at 1:50 000 and 1:10 000, and generalised information on species and densities. The density class of each species in each polygon was mapped and used to derive the condensed areas (the equivalent area with a canopy cover of 100%). Each of the invading species was classified as a tall shrub, medium tree or tall tree - based on growth form and likely water use - and its biomass was estimated from a function based on vegetation age. The incremental water use (i.e. the additional water use compared with the natural vegetation) was calculated using the following equation: Water use (mm) = 0.0238 x biomass (g/m (2)) which was derived from catchment studies. Alien plants, mainly trees and woody shrubs, have invaded an estimated 10.1 million ha of South Africa and Lesotho, an area larger than the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The equivalent condensed area is 1.7 million ha which is greater than the area of Gauteng Province. The Western Cape is the most heavily invaded at about a third of the total area, followed by Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Province. The catchments of the Berg and Breede Rivers are the most heavily invaded followed by the George-Tsitsikamma region, Port Elizabeth coastal region and the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga. The total incremental water use of invading alien plants is estimated at 3 300 million m(3); of water per year, equivalent to about 75% of the virgin MAR of the Vaal River system. About a third of the estimated total water use, by volume, is accounted for by alien invaders in the Western Cape, followed by KwaZulu-Natal (17%), the Eastern Cape (17%) and Mpumalanga (14%). The greatest reduction as a percentage of MAR was found in the arid Northern Cape (17%), followed by the Western Cape (15%) and Gauteng (10%). For primary catchments, the greatest percentage reductions were in the Namaqualand coast (catchment F, 91%) followed by the Eastern Cape Coast (P, 42%) and the south-western Cape (G, 31%). The extent and density of the invasions and thus the impact on water resources could increase significantly in the next 5 to 10 years, resulting in the loss of much, or possibly even all, of the available water in certain catchment areas. Alien plant control is expensive but it has been shown that control programmes are cost-effective compared with alternative water supply schemes. This preliminary assessment needs to be interpreted with caution because the results are based on a data set that contains some important uncertainties. The water-use estimates also involve some critical assumptions. Nevertheless, the scale of the invasions, the magnitudes of the impacts and the rapid expansion we are observing are such that a national control programme is essential if the country's water resources are to be protected.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10204/2121
ISSN: 0378-4738
Appears in Collections:Environmental management
Water resources and human health
General science, engineering & technology

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