The distribution of selected woody invasive alien species in small towns in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
The potential and real negative and positive effects of invasive alien species (IAS) are increasingly recognised by researchers, land managers and decision-makers. However, most of the research and knowledge stems from understandings developed from rural and natural landscapes, with relatively little derived from studies in urban settings. Small towns in particular pose a novel suite of conditions that make the study and mangment of IAS particularly pressing. Here we examined the distribution of seven woody IAS (Acacia mearnsii, Cestrum laevigatum, Eucalyptus spp., Lantana camara, Melia azedarach, Senna didymobotrya and Solanaum mauritianum) within and between five small towns in the Eastern Cape via means of drive-by road surveys of every street in each town. Across the five towns and seven IAS 4,307 individuals were recorded, with the highest densities found in the two more coastal towns. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the IAS were located in residential properties, 24% in public spaces and 13% on road verges, closely mirroring the proportional area of these landuses. Within the residential landuse zone specifically, the townships had between 41% and 61% of all the recorded IAS plants per town, followed by the affluent neighbourhoods (22 - 41%) and lastly, the RDP neighbourhoods (6 - 32%). Cestrum laevigatum was the most abundant woody IAS across the five towns as a whole (1,783 inviduals). The second-most abundant species was M. azedarach (914 stems) and the least recorded was S. mauritianum (44). Additionally, there were differences in the general distribution of the seven species across residential neighbourhoods, with C. laevigatum (71.2%), M. azedarach (49.3%) and S. mauritianum (60.0%) concentrated in township neighbourhoods, whilst A. mearnsii (66.4%), L. camara (64.1%) and Eucalyptus spp. (48.6%) were most common in the affluent neighbourhoods. This study confirms that woody IAS are widespread in small towns of the region, but that they are unevenly distributed between towns and landuses within towns, indicating the need for local-scale inventories and management.