Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Sporobolus africanus
(rat’s tail grass)

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Datasheet

Sporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Sporobolus africanus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • rat’s tail grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Sporobolus africanus is an invasive tussock grass native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is a grass of low palatability and regarded in Australia as a very serious and declared weed. It is dispersed very easily by se...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Sporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Introduced, warm-season, perennial, erect, hairless and tufted grass, usually 40-90 cm tall. A native of Africa, it is found in disturbed or degraded, compacted areas (e.g. tracks, yards and around sheds). Australia. January 2011.
TitleHabit
CaptionSporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Introduced, warm-season, perennial, erect, hairless and tufted grass, usually 40-90 cm tall. A native of Africa, it is found in disturbed or degraded, compacted areas (e.g. tracks, yards and around sheds). Australia. January 2011.
Copyright©Harry Rose/'Macleay Grass Man'/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Sporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Introduced, warm-season, perennial, erect, hairless and tufted grass, usually 40-90 cm tall. A native of Africa, it is found in disturbed or degraded, compacted areas (e.g. tracks, yards and around sheds). Australia. January 2011.
HabitSporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Introduced, warm-season, perennial, erect, hairless and tufted grass, usually 40-90 cm tall. A native of Africa, it is found in disturbed or degraded, compacted areas (e.g. tracks, yards and around sheds). Australia. January 2011.©Harry Rose/'Macleay Grass Man'/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Sporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside, showing long, narrow, inflorescences. Australia. January 2011.
TitleHabit
CaptionSporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside, showing long, narrow, inflorescences. Australia. January 2011.
Copyright©Harry Rose/'Macleay Grass Man'/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Sporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside, showing long, narrow, inflorescences. Australia. January 2011.
HabitSporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside, showing long, narrow, inflorescences. Australia. January 2011.©Harry Rose/'Macleay Grass Man'/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Sporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Australia. March 2006.
TitleHabit
CaptionSporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Australia. March 2006.
Copyright©Harry Rose/'Macleay Grass Man'/via flickr - CC BY 2.0
Sporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Australia. March 2006.
HabitSporobolus africanus (rat’s tail grass); habit on roadside. Australia. March 2006.©Harry Rose/'Macleay Grass Man'/via flickr - CC BY 2.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Sporobolus africanus (Poir.) Robyns & Tournay

Preferred Common Name

  • rat’s tail grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Agrostis africana Poir.
  • Agrostis capensis (L.) Lam.
  • Sporobolus batesii A. Chev.
  • Sporobolus capensis (P.Beauv.) Kunth
  • Sporobolus capensis (Willd.) Kunth
  • Sporobolus indicus (L.) R. Br.
  • Sporobolus indicus var. africanus (Poir.) Jovet & Guedes
  • Sporobolus indicus var. capensis (P. Beauv.) Engl.
  • Sporobolus indicus var. cinereoviridis Baaijens
  • Sporobolus linearis Mez
  • Vilfa africana (Poir.) P.Beauv.
  • Vilfa dianthera Steud.

International Common Names

  • English: African dropseed grass; dropseed; rat’s tail; ratstail dropseed; rattail; rattail grass; smut grass; smutgrass; tough dropseed; tufty grass

Local Common Names

  • Australia: dwarf Parramatta grass; Parramatta grass
  • Cook Islands: matie nganga’ere
  • French Polynesia: aretu
  • Madagascar: ahitry
  • Nigeria: goor; pagame
  • Niue: motie hikutaha
  • South Africa: matshiki; rotstert fynsaadgras; saadgras; taaipol; taaipolfynsaadgras; vleigras

Summary of Invasiveness

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Sporobolus africanus is an invasive tussock grass native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is a grass of low palatability and regarded in Australia as a very serious and declared weed. It is dispersed very easily by several mechanisms and once established it can quickly dominate existing pastures, causing loss of productivity and reduced land values. Its presence may also be an indicator of reduced soil fertility and pasture mismanagement. Control on extensively grazed properties is problematic and every effort must be made to prevent its introduction to clean properties.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Sporobolus
  •                                 Species: Sporobolus africanus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Sporobolus is a genus of about 160 grass species endemic to tropical and subtropical regions (Simon and Jacobs, 1999). The species present considerable taxonomic difficulties in identification, particularly those in the indicus complex (Pilger, 1956; Baaijens and Veldkamp, 1991) in which S. africanus is placed. In Australia, five alien invasive species of the indicus group (S. africanus, S. fertilis, S. jacquemontii [now considered a synonym of S. pyramidalis by the Plant List (2013)], S. natalensis and S. pyramidalis) are known collectively as the weedy sporobolus grasses (Bray and Officer, 2007; Palmer, 2012). The considerable difficulty in identifying these species has led to the development of molecular tools to assist (Shrestha et al., 2003; Shrestha et al., 2005; Peterson et al., 2014).

The generic name Sporobolus derives from the Greek words sporos meaning seed and bolos meaning to throw, referring to how the seeds are squeezed out of the fruits at maturity (Quattrocchi, 2006; Clifford and Bostock, 2007), which is reflected in one of the English common names ‘dropseed’. The specific epithet africanus refers to its origin in Africa.

Description

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S. africanus is an erect, tough, caespitose, perennial tussock grass usually growing to 60 cm in height, but up to 1.1 m. According to Parsons and Cuthbertson (2001), stems are dark green, upright and slender. Leaves are dark green, glabrous, mostly occurring around the base, and are slender and stiff, to 18 cm long, acuminate and with in-rolled margins. The spike-like inflorescence, which is grey-green in colour, up to 35 cm long and 7 mm diameter and resembles a rat's tail, has many branches tightly packed against the main stem but sometimes interrupted near the base to expose the stem. Individual clusters of spikelets each have one floret which is about 2.5 mm long, with unequal outer bracts (glumes), and are closely arranged along the branches. The seeds are about 1 mm in diameter and brown. The roots are fibrous. 

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated

Distribution

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S. africanus originates in Africa, where it is found from South Africa, through East Africa to Ethiopia (van Oudtshoorn, 1999). It has been introduced into North and South America, southern Asia, Indonesia, Hawaii, the South Pacific islands, New Zealand and Australia (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001; USDA-ARS, 2016). In Australia it has a mainly coastal distribution stretching from Brisbane (Queensland) to Adelaide (South Australia), also occurring in Tasmania, coastal areas around Perth (Western Australia) and inland Northern Territory (Mallett, 2005). In Hawaii, S. africanus is naturalized on the main islands of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, Kahoolawe and Hawaii (Wagner et al., 1990, 1999).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

IndiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-UttarakhandPresent2005IntroducedKandwal and Gupta, 2005A new record for India
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
Saudi ArabiaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
YemenPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016

Africa

AngolaPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
BotswanaWidespreadNative Not invasive Oudtshoorn F van, 1999
BurundiPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
CameroonPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNative Not invasive GBIF, 2016
Equatorial GuineaPresentNativeGBIF, 2016
EthiopiaPresentNative Not invasive Oudtshoorn F van, 1999
GhanaPresentNativeGBIF, 2016
KenyaPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
LesothoPresentNativeCJB, 2016
MadagascarPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
MalawiPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
MauritaniaPresentGBIF, 2016
MauritiusPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016; PIER, 2016
MozambiqueWidespreadNative Not invasive Oudtshoorn F van, 1999
NamibiaPresentNativeCJB, 2016
NigerPresentNativeGBIF, 2016
NigeriaPresentNativeKomolafe, 1976
Rodriguez IslandPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
RwandaPresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
Saint HelenaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
Sao Tome and PrincipePresentNativeeMonocot, 2016
South AfricaWidespreadNative Not invasive Oudtshoorn F van, 1999Limpopo , Eastern and Western Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Orange Free State
Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
SwazilandWidespreadNative Not invasive Oudtshoorn F van, 1999
TanzaniaPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
UgandaPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
ZambiaPresentNative Not invasive eMonocot, 2016
ZimbabweWidespreadNative Not invasive Oudtshoorn F van, 1999

North America

USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Wagner et al., 1990; PIER, 2016; USDA-ARS, 2016

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016

South America

ChilePresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Easter IslandPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016

Europe

BelgiumPresent, few occurrencesIntroduced1911 Not invasive Verloove, 2006introduced on wool and as grain contaminant
PortugalPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AzoresPresentIntroducedDAISIE, 2015
-MadeiraPresentIntroducedDAISIE, 2015
SpainPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
UKPresentIntroduced1958Online Atlas of the British & Irish Flora, 2016

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016; PIER, 2016
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedMallett, 2005
-Lord Howe Is.PresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016
-New South WalesWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Green, 1994; Simon and Jacobs, 1999; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016Coastal and irrigated areas, including Lord Howe Island
-QueenslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Simon and Jacobs, 1999; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016; PIER, 2016
-South AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Simon and Jacobs, 1999; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
-TasmaniaPresentIntroduced Invasive Simon and Jacobs, 1999; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
-VictoriaPresentIntroduced Invasive Simon and Jacobs, 1999; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Simon and Jacobs, 1999; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016
Cook IslandsPresentIntroducedeMonocot, 2016
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Florence et al., 1983; PIER, 2016
New ZealandPresentIntroduced Invasive Honore, 1970; PIER, 2016
-Kermadec IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2016Raoul Island
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive eMonocot, 2016; PIER, 2016
Norfolk IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Green, 1994; Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016; PIER, 2016
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2016Saipan Island
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedCouncil of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, 2016; eMonocot, 2016
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2016

History of Introduction and Spread

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In Australia, S. africanus was introduced into New South Wales early in the 19th century (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001), quite possibly deliberately as a pasture plant or as a contaminant in pasture seed. It established successfully around Sydney (hence its common name in Australia of Parramatta grass, Parramatta being a suburb of Sydney) and then spread to other coastal areas. It was introduced to and has become invasive on numerous Pacific islands, including Australia’s Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands, as well as Hawaii, Niue and several islands in French Polynesia (Green, 1994; PIER, 2016).

It was first recorded in New Zealand in 1840 at the Bay of Plenty, from where it spread throughout the lowlands of North Island and the northern part of South Island (Allan, 1936; Campbell et al., 1999).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia early 1800s Forage (pathway cause) ,
Seed trade (pathway cause)
Yes Parsons and Cuthbertson (2001) Probably a contaminant of grass seed lots
New Zealand 1840 Yes Allan (1936)

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of this plant should be considered high because there are several effective dispersal mechanisms for it. International movement would be more likely as a contaminant in pasture seed but could also occur through movement of machinery, fodder, livestock or animal skins. Regionally, as well as these mechanisms, dispersal can be effected by water, wild animals, vehicles and even people’s clothing.

Habitat

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S. africanus is generally found in the tropics and subtropics, occasionally in temperate regions, with annual rainfalls of at least 700 mm (Campbell et al., 1999). In East Africa it has been found in medium altitude and montane woodland and forest, always in disturbed areas, roadsides and in grazed areas (Friis and Vollesen, 2005). In South Africa, it is found in moist, cool-temperate grasslands (Werger and Coetzee, 1978).

At least two bioclimatic models have been generated: a BIOCLIM model based on New Zealand data (Campbell et al., 1999) and a CLIMEX model reported by Walton (2001) and Palmer (2012). S. africanus is reported from a wide range of soil types, including alluvial and volcanic soils (Walton, 2001). In New Zealand it is associated with steeper land and lower fertility soils (Campbell et al., 1996). In Australia it has become a widespread and common weed of roadsides, recreation areas and wasteland (Australian Weeds Committee, 2016).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
 
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Natural
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Natural
Wetlands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Littoral
Coastal areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The genus Sporobolus is cytogenetically complex and basic chromosome numbers of x = 6, 9 and 10 are present. Reported haploid chromosome numbers of n = 12, 18, 24, 24, 30, 36 or 48 for S. africanus (Spies et al., 1991; Simon and Jacobs, 1999) suggest a basic chromosome number of x = 6 for this species. Using a novel RAPD-PCR technique for generating genetic markers to differentiate Sporobolus species in Australia, Shrestha et al. (2005) found that S. africanus exhibited low within-species genetic diversity compared to S. natalensis, S. fertilis, S. sessilis, S. elongatus and S. laxus, which had high genetic diversity.

Reproductive Biology

This grass is a prolific seeder and is capable of producing up to 3600 seeds/m2 per year. The mucilaginous pericarp of the seed, a feature common to all Sporobolus spp., is an important adaption for dispersal. S. africanus can flower throughout the year but mostly spring to autumn (Simon and Jacobs, 1999).

Physiology and Phenology

In common with the other weedy sporobolus grasses, S. africanus has many traits within its life cycle which make it highly adapted for successful invasion and establishment: long plant lifespan, seedlings and plants unpalatable and difficult to kill, high seed production, large seed banks, drought tolerance and effective seed dispersal.

S. africanus has a C4 photosynthetic pathway of the phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase subtype (Campbell et al., 1999). Species falling into this subtype are most abundant in tropical and subtropical areas of intermediate rainfall (Wand et al., 2001).

Associations

In a region of moist, cool-temperate grasslands in South Africa, S. africanus was found associated with the grasses Eragrostis curvula, Cynodon dactylon and Hyparrhenia hirta, as well as several forbs, including Walafrida densiflora, Solanum spp. and Wahlenbergia caledonica [Wahlenbergia undulata], in secondary grasslands on previously cultivated lands that had been left fallow (Werger and Coetzee, 1978). The plant communities (i) Sporobolus africanus - Hyparrhenia hirta - Eucalyptus camaldulensis woodland, (ii) Sporobolus africanus - Hyparrhenia hirta - Cynodon dactylon grassland and (iii) Sporobolus africanus - Hyparrhenia hirtaSenecio isatideus grassland were identified in a study carried out in Gauteng province, South Africa, by Tuckett (2013).

Environmental Requirements

S. africanus grows mainly in tropical and subtropical areas but can also be found in temperate regions with moderate to high rainfall (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). It favours sites with compacted soil, such as road verges and tracks, but will also invade pasture and sandy coastal sites (Eurobodalla Shire Council, 2016), especially those sites receiving water run-off (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001). The species is well suited to growing in soils of low fertility and its occurrence in pastures may indicate that the level of soil fertility has fallen below that required by the more palatable and nutritious grasses (Burbidge, 1970).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
B - Dry (arid and semi-arid) Tolerated < 860mm precipitation annually
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
20 44

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 1 1.9
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 11 16
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 21 25
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 1.7 8.4

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall8052986mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Herpetogramma licarsisalis Herbivore Whole plant not specific
Tetramesa Herbivore Stems not specific
Ustilago sporoboli-indici Pathogen Leaves to genus

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Surveys of natural enemies of Sporobolus species in southern Africa were undertaken to identify potential biological control agents for controlling alien Sporobolus in Australia. While around 70 phytophagous insects and 23 plant pathogens were identified, only the leaf smut pathogen Ustilago sporoboli-indici and the stem wasp Tetramesa sp. showed potential. Both, however, were discarded as the smut proved pathogenic to native Australian Sporobolus species, while the wasp could not be reared in captivity (Palmer et al., 2008).

In Hawaii, the grass webworm Herpetogramma licarsisalis was found in 1968 feeding on pasture grasses, including S. africanus on Maui (Davis, 1969). 

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

Seeds of S. africanus can be distributed in mud, animal faeces and flowing water (Walton, 2001).

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Mature seeds become sticky when damp and are dispersed by attachment to animal fur, clothes, vehicles and machinery (Walton, 2001).

Accidental Introduction

Seeds are also distributed as contaminants of seed and produce. In pasture areas, potential of spread is high via pasture seed and hay, adherence directly or in soil attached to milk tankers, fertilizer trucks, slashers and other farm machinery, and in irrigation channels (Walton, 2001). In the UK, scattered occurrences of S. africanus in the wild are attributed to seeds introduced with wool shoddy (Online Atlas of the British & Irish Flora, 2016).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Digestion and excretion Yes
Foragecan occur in hay Yes Yes
Hitchhikerattaches to clothes, vehicles, animals Yes Yes
Seed tradecan occur as a seed contaminant Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Clothing, footwear and possessions Yes
Land vehicles Yes Yes
Livestock Yes
Machinery and equipment Yes Yes
Water Yes

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
True seeds (inc. grain) Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Negative
Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive

Economic Impact

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In southern Australian states, S. africanus has become a serious weed of irrigated pastures. In Victoria, farmers have reported annual dairy herd milk production dropping by hundreds of litres when pastures became dominated by this grass, its toughness and poor nutritive value affecting cow performance. The texture of the leaves and stems are particularly hard and horses have been known to loosen teeth grazing it as they have to pull rather than break the grass (Breakwell, 1923). This degradation of productive pastures can lead to subsequent reductions in land values for affected farms and regions.

In Nigeria, it is a weed of plantation crops (Komolafe, 1976). Costs of control in crops and pastures can be high.

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

S. africanus is regarded as an environmental weed in Queensland and New South Wales in Australia (Queensland Government, 2016). It invades pastures and replaces (outcompetes) productive grasses and is known to dominate in wet, swampy areas

Impact on Biodiversity

In Hawaii, S. africanus is one of many alien plant species threatening the existence of native plant species. On Maui, the threatened native Bidens micrantha subsp. kalealaha, an erect perennial herb, is restricted to 4 populations on the leeward east side of the island, comprising no more than 2000 individuals. It is threatened by competition from a variety of invasive plant species, especially in conjunction with ecosystem damage caused by feral goats and cattle. Associated alien plant species include Holcus lanatus, Hypochaeris radicata, Oenothera stricta and S. africanus. Alien plant cover within Haleakala National Park slows the recovery of B. micrantha subsp. kalealaha, and establishment of new individuals is largely limited to stream beds, talus slopes, etc., where competition with alien grasses is not so intense (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1997).

On Kauai, Brighamia insignis, classed according to the IUCN Red List as critically endangered D (IUCN, 2015), exists as 5 populations comprising 60-70 individuals in total. Commonly known as ‘cabbage on a stick’, it occurs in lowland dry grassland, is a member of the Campanulaceae family, grows 1 to 5 m tall and produces fragrant yellow flowers. The major threats to this species are predation and habitat degradation by feral goats, and competition from alien plant species such as S. africanus, Melinis minutiflora and Setaria gracilis [Setaria parviflora] (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1995).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Bidens micrantha subsp. kalealahaNT (IUCN red list: Near threatened)HawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resourcesUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 1997
Brighamia insignisEN (IUCN red list: Endangered)HawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resourcesUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 1995

Social Impact

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In some urban areas, such as Sydney in Australia, S. africanus is considered a problem in lawns (Breakwell, 1923). It also causes structural problems when growing on road verges, where it can break through asphalt (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 2001).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
  • Difficult/costly to control

Uses

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Economic Value

There are few productive uses for S. africanus. As a pasture component, it has very low feed value for livestock. Some landholders manage the problem by preventing the grass from maturing and thereby getting some grazing utility from it whilst at the early green stage of development.

Social Benefit

The entire plant of S. africanus is used by women in traditional medicine in Mahabo-Mananivo in southeastern Madagascar to treat allergies (Razafindraibe et al., 2013), while in northern Uganda crushed roots are used in the treatment of retained placenta (Kamatenesi et al., 2011).

Environmental Services

Tuckett (2013) observed a wide range of wild ungulates grazing in the various S. africanus plant communities he identified in a nature reserve in Gauteng, South Africa. In Hawaii, S. africanus is a food plant for Branta sandvicensis, the native Hawaiian goose or nene (Myers et al., 2016).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage

Environmental

  • Wildlife habitat

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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There are several Sporobolus species that are very similar and difficult to distinguish. In Australia, S. africanus can be confused with the native S. elongatus (Burbidge, 1970), as well as the other weedy sporobolus grasses; it differs from S. indicus in its narrow, denser inflorescences and larger spikelets, and from S. fertilis in its larger spikelets and by the inflorescence branches being more appressed at the base (Mallett, 2005).

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

Detection and Inspection Methods

There are no easy methods for detecting S. africanus in the field. In areas likely to become infested, landholders must remain vigilant to grasses with the general characteristic of this species and seek early expert identification of any possible incursion. Similarly, it is very difficult to distinguish its seeds from those of other grass species. The recommended approach is to ensure that machinery and vehicles are completely cleaned of all plant matter before being allowed onto clean land.

Diagnosis

A laboratory technique was developed to create genetic markers to differentiate seed samples of S. africanus from those of other Sporobolus species present in Australia (Shrestha et al., 2005). This RAPD-PCR technique, however, has not been employed for routine screening.

Prevention

It is important to prevent infestation of clean pastures with S. africanus. The seeds are very easily moved on animals, vehicles, people and fodder so strict property hygiene is essential. Landholders in areas likely to become infested must be alert to new infestations and eliminate these as quickly as possible. It is also important to maintain existing pastures in a vigorous and dense condition to increase competition for any weed seedlings that might establish.

Viable seeds of Sporobolus spp. can take several days to pass through a cow’s digestive system (Andrews, 1995) and a minimum quarantine period of 5 days is recommended before cattle which have grazed in infested pastures are introduced to new pastures; a quarantine field should be especially reserved for such cattle (Elphinstone, 2013).

Government can assist in preventing S. africanus infestations by declaring the plant noxious and regulating to prevent its movement. In Australia, S. africanus is a declared weed in Queensland and New South Wales so that landholders are legally required to suppress and destroy the weed and/or prevent its spreading (depending on region). Government, regional groups and producer organizations can also mount effective extension campaigns to ensure that landholders are aware of the issues.

Eradication

Eradication of this grass is extremely problematical even at a property level. There are no documented cases where S. africanus has been eradicated from an area of any appreciable size.

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

Herbicide-treated pastures can be oversown with suitable species to prevent reinfestation by S. africanus and to restore pasture quality. Although not native to Australia, Elphinstone (2013) recommends stoloniferous grasses and other pasture species, such as creeping bluegrass (Bothriochloa insculpta) cv. Bisset, Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) cv. Katambora and cassia (Chamaecrista rotundifolia) cv. Wynn, for pasture recovery.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Where S. africanus infestations are relatively small, plants can be hand chipped, bagged and removed from pasture for burning or similar destruction.

Movement Control

Movement Control and property hygiene are critical elements in mitigating the effects of this weed. Every attempt must be made to prevent its introduction into clean areas. Measures include being certain that any seed or fodder brought on to a property is not infested, thoroughly cleaning machinery and vehicles, or refusing entry onto clean areas of machinery that has been in infested areas.

Biological Control

Although the Australian grazing industry is keen to have biological control for S. africanus, prospects are not good (Palmer, 2012). Grasses are difficult targets for biological control for several reasons. Australia also has some 15 native congeners necessitating a very high degree of host specificity of any prospective agent. One agent, the smut Ustilago sporoboli-indici was fully screened but rejected because of attack on Australian native Sporobolus species (Yobo et al., 2009).

Chemical Control

Two active substances are available for chemical control of S. africanus, flupropanate and glyphosate. These can be used by spot spraying, by boom spraying or by pressurized wick wiping. Spraying should be carried out in low rainfall months.

Flupropanate can be applied as granules to sites where plants have been grubbed out or as a liquid solution spot spray where population densities are low to medium (1-2 plants/10 m2). Scout plants at the periphery of population clumps should be targeted first before progressing inwards. Where weed populations are dense (>2000 plants/ha), (i) arable land should be cultivated and cropped for several years, with spot spraying of headlands; (ii) marginal arable land should be cropped for fodder for a couple of seasons using reduced tillage to minimize soil erosion, with spot spraying of headlands; (iii) non-arable land should have aerial application of flupropanate granules or boom spraying with flupropanate liquid formulation; and (iv) steep or broken land needs precision aerial application of flupropanate granules. There are grazing withholding periods for both dairy and beef cattle when flupropanate is applied to pasture: at least 14 days after spot spraying and at least 4 months after boom spraying or aerial application of granules (Bray and Officer, 2007; Elphinstone, 2013).

IPM

Integrated weed management operations minimize the detrimental effects of S. africanus (Dyason, 1988). These options include strict hygiene to prevent initial infestations, early detection of infestation, maintaining competitive pastures of non-Sporobolus species, minimizing overgrazing, grazing strategies to prevent S. africanus maturing and appropriate herbicide application.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Despite considerable advancements in the taxonomy and phylogeny of the genus Sporobolus over the past two decades, there are still issues in identification that could be clarified with further work using the most recent techniques of DNA analysis and relating these studies to morphological characters suitable for field identification. These studies need to be undertaken at the global level. One benefit of definitive identification is that knowledge from various countries can be pooled.

There is very little information appearing about this species in the peer reviewed scientific literature.

References

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Contributors

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25/01/2016 Original text by:

W. A. Palmer, Consultant, Queensland, Australia

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