A nature-based approach for managing the invasive weed species Gutenbergia cordifolia for sustainable rangeland management.
Background: The invasive weed species Gutenbergia cordifolia has been observed to suppress native plants and to dominate more than half of the entire crater floor (250 km2) in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). As this species has been found to be toxic to ruminants it might strongly impact animal populations in this ecologically diverse ecosystem. Hence, a nature-based approach is urgently needed to manage its spread. We tested two Desmodium spp. extracts applied to G. cordifolia and assessed the latter's germination rate, height, fresh weight and leaf total chlorophyll content after 30 days in both laboratory and screen house experiments. Results: Seedling germination rate was halved by Desmodium uncinatum leaf extract (DuL), particularly under higher concentrations (≥75%) rather than lower concentrations (≤62.5%). Likewise, in both laboratory and screen house experiments, germination rate under DuL treatments declined with increasing concentrations. Seedling height, fresh weight and leaf total chlorophyll content (Chl) were also most strongly affected by DuL treatments rather than D. uncinatum root extract, Desmodium intortum leaf extract or D. intortum root extract treatments. Generally, seedlings treated with higher DuL concentrations were half as tall, had one-third the weight and half the leaf Chl content compared to those treated with lower concentrations. Conclusion: Our study shows a novel technique that can be applied where G. cordifolia may be driving native flora and fauna to local extinction. Our data further suggest that this innovative approach is both ecologically safe and effective and that D. uncinatum can be sustainably used to manage invasive plants, and thus, to improve rangeland productivity.