A global impact assessment of Acacia species introduced to South Africa.
Species of the genus Acacia have been introduced worldwide and have negative environmental and socio-economic impacts in many introduced regions. This study makes use of environmental and socio-economic impact classification schemes for alien taxa (EICAT and SEICAT) to assess the impacts that 33 acacias introduced to South Africa have at a global scale. The aims of this study were: (1) to compare the EICAT impact categories which are based on literature with expert assessments; (2) to determine which environmental and socio-economic mechanisms underlie acacia impacts; and (3) to test if certain habitats experience higher impact magnitudes than others. Most acacias had a massive impact when evaluated by experts, while the impact was mostly major for EICAT. This could be due to the use of different definitions for the impact categories. It might also show that the data available is insufficient or inadequate in showing that such high impacts exist. Competition was found to be the most often recorded mechanism underlying acacia environmental impacts and was one of the mechanisms with the largest impact magnitude. Grassland, shrubland, marine-coastal and forest habitats were found to be impacted by acacias equally as much. Using impact scoring schemes as an evidence-based and transparent approach to determine the impact status of alien species provides a more robust method to aid management prioritisation and risk assessment than expert opinion alone. However, data quality and availability could limit their effectiveness, especially for less well studied species.