Invasive alien plant species, fragmentation and scale effects on urban forest community composition in Durban, South Africa

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Background: Urban forests are under increased pressure from invasion by exotic (alien) species. The vegetation present in the matrix of urban sites is a rich source of alien invasive propagules, which increases the risk of alien invasion in forests within an urban space, leading to a decline in indigenous species. Therefore, determining the distribution patterns of native and exotic species as influenced by environmental factors can assist in quantifying the impact of exotic species at broad scales based on responses on a finer scale. Quantifying the effects of multiple environmental factors on the distribution patterns of both indigenous and alien species in the ecosystem may help in prescribing suitable management efforts. Methods: Fifteen forest patches were sampled in the eThekwini (Durban) Municipality and data collected from 74 100-m2 plots with different degrees of invasion. Indigenous and alien species of trees, shrubs and climbers occurring in ten and more plots were considered for analysis and the CANOCO 5.1 package was used to run various constrained ordination analyses. Variation partitioning analysis was used to assess the impact of environmental variables at different spatial scales, namely the plot and patch scales. Results: Canopy gaps are the major controlling factor for invasive alien plants (IAPs) occurrence at fine scale. At patch level, residential and industry areas outside the boundaries (buffer area) of forest patches have a high influence on the distribution of IAPs. Communities dominated by the invasive Chromolaena odorata (L.) R.M. King are most common on the lowland coastal forests while communities dominated by either Litsea glutinosa (Lour.) C.B.Rob. or Cardiospermum grandiflorum Sw. can prevail in both lowland coastal and scarp forests. Conclusions: Canopy gaps in lowland forests can facilitate the transition of native forests to novel communities containing a variety of alien plant species. Communities of shrub, climber and tree IAPs occur in lowland coastal forests while climber and tree IAPs dominate the high-elevation scarp forests. The resilience shown by some native species to the tree, shrub and climber IAPs by remaining when IAPs establish makes these species very suitable for restoration projects. Forest patches surrounded by a high incidence of residential and industrial areas in the buffer matrix are likely to have a high diversity of IAPs. Larger patch size and high connectivity to nearby native forests are key in reducing invasion by IAPs.




Mavimbela, L. Z., Sieben, E. J. J., & Procheş, Ş. (2018). Invasive alien plant species, fragmentation and scale effects on urban forest community composition in Durban, South Africa. New Zealand Journal of Forestry Science, 48(1).

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