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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 28(1)

The impacts of invasive plant species on the biodiversity of Australian rangelands

A. C. Grice

CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems and Co-operative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Private Bag PO Aitkenvale, Qld 4814, Australia. Email: tony.grice@csiro.au
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Most parts of the Australian rangelands are at risk of invasion by one or more species of non-native plants. The severity of current problems varies greatly across the rangelands with more non-native plant species in more intensively settled regions, in climatic zones that have higher and more reliable rainfall, and in wetter and more fertile parts of rangeland landscapes. Although there is quantitative evidence of impacts on either particular taxonomic groups or specific ecological processes in Australian rangelands, a comprehensive picture of responses of rangeland ecosystems to plant invasions is not available. Research has been focused on invasive species that are perceived to have important effects. This is likely to down play the significance of species that have visually less dramatic influences and ignore the possibility that some species could invade and yet have negligible consequences. It is conceivable that most of the overall impact will come from a relatively small proportion of invasive species. Impacts have most commonly been assessed in terms of plant species richness or the abundance of certain groups of vertebrates to the almost complete exclusion of other faunal groups. All scientific studies of the impacts of invasive species in Australian rangelands have focused on the effects of individual invasive species although in many situations native communities are under threat from a complex of interacting weed species. Invasion by non-native species is generally associated with declines in native plant species richness, but faunal responses are more complex and individual invasions may be associated with increase, decrease and no-change scenarios for different faunal groups. Some invasive species may remain minor components of the vegetation that they invade while others completely dominate one stratum or the vegetation overall.

Keywords: plant invasion, plant species richness, weeds.

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