Researchers seek long-term solution to get rid of invasive plants

2017-07-11 13:59
Dr Hylton Adie stands near the alien invasive Lantana shrub in Ferncliffe Reserve, explaining how a canopy of indigenous trees could help kill the alien vegetation rather than pulling the vegetation out and having it grow back the following year.

Dr Hylton Adie stands near the alien invasive Lantana shrub in Ferncliffe Reserve, explaining how a canopy of indigenous trees could help kill the alien vegetation rather than pulling the vegetation out and having it grow back the following year. (Ian Carbutt)

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Avid hikers and nature lovers have been urged not to remove alien invasive plants from Ferncliffe Reserve as it will only make “the problem worse”.

University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Dr Zivanai Tsvuura and UKZN associate researcher Dr Hylton Adie are currently working on a long-term solution to rid the reserve of the invasive vegetation.

Tsvuura said he and Adie started the project together last year with Ferncliffe Reserve just one of the forests being worked on as part of a larger project examining the structure and dynamics of Afrotemperate forests in KZN.

Afrotemperate forests are forests outside of a tropical climate that exist at a higher altitude like Pietermaritzburg.

Last week, The Witness published an article on Ferncliffe Reserve and how its indigenous plants were being destroyed by fast-growing alien invasive vegetation such as bugweed, lantana and wild ginger.

However, Tsvuura said that chopping down and pulling out the alien invasive plants was only a short-term solution and that they would grow back in a year or two.

“Our attempt is a long-term solution, the only fault is that the results will not be immediate,” he said.

The project will see seedlings of indigenous trees taken from within 50 km of the reserve so they are “not too genetically different” from the indigenous trees that once inhabited the reserve. The seedlings will then be planted close together and once they have grown (between 20 to 30 metres) they will eventually shade out the forest floor, and without light, the bugweed will die.

Adie said much of the former forested slope at Ferncliffe is dominated by bugweed and direct planting of indigenous tree seedlings “is one of a suite of tools available to practitioners wishing to restore degraded sites”.

Tsvuura said that if the bugweed was removed, it could also make space for other alien invasive plants much worse than bugweed, such as Lantana.

He said the project was started last year, however, the planting of the seedlings would most likely only take place next year.

He said the project was not a quick fix and it would take years until people started seeing results but he added that he was confident the restoration project would work as it had in Indonesia and the Caribbean.

Adie said the project provides the opportunity to develop a post-graduate training facility through the School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and already has post-graduate participants.


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