Launch of National Status Report on Biological invasions in South Africa

02 March 2017

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has formally launched a process to develop the first National Status Report on Biological Invasions in South Africa, due for publication in October 2017. The launch took place at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town on 31 January 2017. 

'Biological Invasions' refers to the process whereby organisms are transported by humans (either accidental or intentionally) to areas where they are not naturally present, and that on reaching such areas the organisms survive, breed and spread with the potential to cause a wide variety of significant negative environmental and socio-economic impacts. The status report intends to inform the development and ongoing adaptation of appropriate policies to reduce the negative impacts of invasive alien species on natural ecosystems, the economy and the society. 

Many alien species are beneficial; almost all agriculture and forestry in South Africa is dependent on organisms deliberately introduced by humans (e.g. wheat, maize, sheep and eucalypts are considered alien species), and many species are also introduced for horticulture, aquaculture and mariculture, or kept as pets. Preserving the benefits from these introduced species while limiting potential negative impacts from invasions that might result as a consequence, is a major challenge. 

However, for the purposes of the status report, we will addressing the status of the relatively small number of species that have become problematic and are listed in the NEM:BA Alien and Invasive Species lists as invasive; those that have been listed as prohibited species (species that are apparently not yet in the country, so presumably there will be nothing to report on them); and species that have been subjected to risk assessments (listed or unlisted). 

The report will be structured around four aspects, namely: (1) pathways of introduction and spread; (2) the status, distribution and impacts of individual alien species; (3) the degree to which areas are invaded and impacted upon by alien species; (4) the effectiveness of interventions including current control operations regulatory tools.  A range of measurable indicators have been developed for each of these aspects..

Invasive alien species threaten our constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to our health or wellbeing and to an environment that is protected for the benefit of current and future generations; therefore it is necessary to quantify the status of invasive alien species to improve our intervention measures. 

Negative impacts of invasive alien species include the reduction water runoff and groundwater recharge, ultimately reducing the water supplies of already water-stressed farms, towns and cities; species that invade rangelands reduce their capacity to support livestock and the people that depend on the livestock production; and many other invasive alien plants and animals impact negatively on biodiversity and the services that diverse natural ecosystems provide, ranging from ecotourism to harvesting food, firewood, cut flowers and medicinal products. The cost of controlling these species is substantial, and can be ill-afforded given the demand for other services.

Dr Sebataolo Rahlao, Director: Biodiversity Pressures and Responses, leads the SANBI team, which has partnered with the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University to compile the report. The team will rely heavily on inputs from experts from around the country and thus have engaged with the relevant experts as well as the public and different government offices in this important exercise. Under the regulations of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEM:BA Act No. 10 of 2004) SANBI is required to submit a report on the status of biological invasions, which includes reporting on the effectiveness of control measures and regulations, to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, at least every three years.

The official launch of the report took place at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden during the SANBI Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs oversight visit and the presentation on the second quarter report 2016/2017 by SANBI CEO, Dr Tanya Abrahamse.

SANBI-CIB team

SANBI-CIB team Tsungai Zengeya, Monica Nguta, Zanele Mnikathi, Sebataolo Rahlao, Tendamudzimu Munyai, Tumelo Morapi Brian van Wilgen and John Wilson (not in the picture), responsible for compiling the National Status Report on Biological Invasions.

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SANBI board members and SANBI Portfolio Committee of Environmental Affairs members at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

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