Estimation of the hydrological response to invasive alien plants in the upper Blyde River catchment.
The change in total evaporation through alteration of vegetative cover is a major influence on catchment hydrology. The transformation of grassland and scrub habitats to commercial tree plantations, as well as the uncontrolled spread of invasive alien plants (lAPs) to ecologically sensitive systems, riparian zones in particular, are a threat to biodiversity and integrity of natural systems. Furthermore, critical low flow periods are of particular concern to water managers and local communities, as well as the associated impacts of potentially compromised water resources for rural livelihoods. The Working for Water (WfW) programme was implemented in 1995 by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and its main goals are to remove lAPs in order to improve water supply while at the same time providing employment to marginalised communities. In this study, the hydrological response to lAPs in the Upper Blyde River catchment is assessed. This is done by developing a classification structure for lAPs as a land use using detailed mapping available from WfW for use in a hydrological model, and then configuring and running the ACRU hydrological model for the Upper Blyde River catchment in Mpumalanga. In the classification, lAPs are represented as spatially explicit land use units in the ACRU model according to the type of habitat they invade, viz. riparian or non-riparian; as well as by type of plant, i.e. tree or shrub; and their area and density. The results obtained from simulating catchment hydrological responses using the ACRU model indicate that riparian lAPs have a great er impact on streamflow than do landscape invasions alone, specifically during periods of low flow. An increase in streamflow after removing lAPs from riparian and non-riparian habitats is a consistent outcome at both subcatchment and catchment scales. Using a spatially explicit method in order to model the hydrological response of different types of lAPs for different density classes in both riparian and non-riparian habitats is found to be a useful technique in determining the degree to which lAPs influence catchment streamflow. Recommendations for future research include focussing hydrological assessments of lAPs on critical flow periods and their impacts on water quality; investigation into the water use of invasive and indigenous vegetation for more accurate estimates from modelling exercises; and finally, applying the classification system for lAPs with other land use sensitive hydrological models for validation, and their wider application by incorporating methodologies into guidelines for use by WfW at national and provincial level.