The invasive Opuntia ficus-indica homogenizes native plant species compositions in the highlands of Eritrea.
Invasion by exotic species is recognized as one of the major threats to biodiversity. The effects of invasion by Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae) on the species diversity, richness and composition of invaded communities were studied at three sites in the highlands of Eritrea, East Africa. This paper investigates whether the presence of O. ficus-indica causes a negative effect on the native biodiversity in a region rarely studied so far. The vegetation in invaded and uninvaded plots with similar habitat conditions was sampled and differences in the species composition, diversity and richness were compared between the plots. The overall plant species composition differed significantly with invasion by O. ficus-indica. The invasion by O. ficus-indica also led to a significant homogenization of community compositions. The species richness and Shannon diversity index did not differ significantly between the invaded and uninvaded plots. Nevertheless, we still detected species with significantly lower occurrence in the invaded plots (Psiadia punctulata), but also species which preferred invaded plots (Plectranthus hadiensis). We conclude that O. ficus-indica exerts a negligible effect on the species diversity and richness but that it affects species composition and that there are species which suffer due to its presence. Due to the continuous pressure of the invasion by O. ficus-indica on the species composition and dry climates, further homogenization in the native species diversity is to be expected in the future for the highlands of Eritrea.