Excellent guide to invasive aliens

2009-09-23 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Invaded

Leonie Joubert

Wits University Press

AUTHOR of Scorched: South Africa’s Changing C limate and Boiling Point: People in a Changing Climate, science writer Leonie Joubert has produced another highly readable and accessible book, this time an account of invasive aliens — the plants and animals that have come to South Africa largely as a result of human migration — creatures removed from their original habitats that in many cases have set about trashing their new home.

Alien species found in South Africa include everything from insects to crustaceans, from fish to frogs and from trees to the birds that perch in them. Profusely illustrated with photographs by Rodger Bosch, Invaded is a user-friendly guide to our invasive aliens, kicking off with a global overview of the problem (it all began with global travel) before homing in on the South African specifics. You’ll find many familiar faces here — mynah birds, sparrows, trout — and plenty of other new kids on the block.

When it comes to KwaZulu-Natal Joubert singles out the triffid weed (Chromolaena odorata). Most people know it is clogging up our wilderness areas, particularly in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, but the weed also poses a threat to the breeding grounds of the Nile crocodile. Crocodile eggs hatch within a narrow temperature range and breeding sites shaded by the invasive weed become too cool for incubation. “It could spell the end of the Nile crocodile in St Lucia,” according to one study.

Joubert also tracks the internal migrations of indigenous species such as Hadedas and Egyptian geese to areas not previously considered their home. Changing farming practices, new dams and the spread of invasive alien trees appear to have facilitated this movement. In cases such as these the jury is still out on the damage they might cause. Only time will tell. But most of the other species have had a dramatic effect on our environment. As Joubert says, the spread of invasive species is “a form of pollution which is so subtle and insidious that many people do not realise it is there”. Illuminating, informative and not without a dash of hope, Joubert’s book is a valuable corrective to our collective ignorance. Highly recommended.

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