Book focuses on invasive species

The five editors of the book, from left, John Wilson, Brian van Wilgen, Dave Richardson, John Measey and Tsungai Zengeya.
If you’re concerned about invasive species or always wanted to know more about them, then a new book on all aspects of biological invasions in South Africa is definitely for you.

Published recently as an open access encyclopaedic book, Biological Invasions in South Africa provides the reader with information on 1 422 alien species including, among others, plants, birds, mammals, fish, terrestrial invertebrates, invasive marine organisms and disease-causing microorganisms that have naturalised or become invasive in the country.

Comprising 31 chapters, it covers themes such as the history of research in South Africa, detailed accounts of major groups of plants and animals, policy development,  the development of a robust ecological theory about biological invasions, the effectiveness of management interventions and scenarios for the future regarding biological invasions in the country.

“There are very few, if any, books that give such a comprehensive coverage of this field at a national level, for any country in the world. While there are many books on biological invasions, most cover a particular aspect of the problem, or a particular group of species,” says Professor Brian van Wilgen, from the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB) and the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University.

He co-edited the book with colleagues, Professorss John Measey and Dave Richardson, as well as Professor John Wilson and Dr Tsungai Zengeya from the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Over 100 researchers, practitioners and post-graduate students working on different aspects of invasive species contributed to the book. 

Professor Van Wilgen says they wanted to produce a comprehensive reference work that can be used as a teaching and research tool and a source of information for managers in the field.

“This book provides information on the known impacts of invasive species in the country. For example, alien trees consume about 5% of our scarce water resources, reduce the carrying capacity of our natural rangelands and are a direct threat to the survival of almost half of 1 600 native species listed in South Africa’s Red Data List,” says Professor Van Wilgen.

“Particularly damaging species include American and European pine trees and Australian acacias that invade the fynbos and grasslands, reduce water runoff, threaten native species (some of which are only found in South Africa) and increase the severity of wildfires; American mesquite (Prosopis) trees that invade the arid Karoo and dry savannas, making livestock production almost impossible on some farms; and a new arrival, the invasive polyphagous shothole borer, a beetle set to wipe out plane trees, oaks, avocados and many other trees species across South Africa.”

As to the reason behind the book, Professor Van Wilgen says the last (and only) synthesis of this topic at a national level was published 34 years ago in 1986, and a new synthesis of this large and growing problem was needed.

“Our government has invested a substantial amount into the establishment and running of the CIB over the past 15 years, so it was also necessary to review what we have learnt, and to provide a comprehensive synthesis for use by the next generation of researchers and managers,” says Professor Van Wilgen.

He adds that their comprehensive coverage was possible for a number of reasons, including South Africa’s long history as a leader in dealing with invasive species (both in research and in management) and generous funding made available for research, training and management over the past 20 years.

“South Africa has also emerged as a world-leading nation in this field, punching well above its weight in research, training and management. Since its inception in 2004, the CIB has published 1 750 research papers, and conferred master’s and doctoral degrees on 129 and 67 candidates respectively.
“This is a significant contribution to capacity-building and transformation in this field.”

The hope is that the book will remain a major reference work and teaching tool for many years to come – not only in South Africa, but also globally, says Van Wilgen.

Downloaded the book at no cost, here.

Dr Alec Basson is a senior science writer at Stellenbosch University