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The impacts of woody invasive alien plants on stream hydrogeomorphology in small headwater streams of KwaZulu-Natal.

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South Africa has a long history of problems with invasive alien species. In an assessment of alien invading plants and water resources in South Africa Versveld et al. (1998) estimated that Invasive Alien Plants (IAPs) in South Africa covered an area equivalent to the size of KwaZulu-Natal. However this area of invasion was primarily concentrated along the river courses of South Africa as alien invasions are arguably a riparian problem (Versveld et al., 1998). In a 1998 assessment of the distribution of IAPs in South Africa Versveld et al. (1998) found a total invasion extent of 8% for South Africa (including Lesotho), while KwaZulu-Natal had a higher total extent of invasion at 9.75%. However the authors noted the limitations of the IAP mapping assessment and stated that from personal observations and observers’ comments the area invaded by IAPs may be as much as 2-3 times greater than the 9.75% value obtained for KwaZulu-Natal. South Africa’s most widespread invasive alien tree (Dye and Jarmain, 2004), Acacia mearnsii (black wattle), is ubiquitous throughout KwaZulu-Natal, and invades most severely where water is plentiful, such as along watercourses and road verges. However following dispersal along rivers, A. mearnsii spreads into adjacent terrestrial habitats (Richardson and Kluge, 2008) including indigenous grassland and forest. A. mearnsii was introduced to South Africa in the middle 19th century to provide tanbark, woodchips, construction poles and firewood, and its introduction spread rapidly across KwaZulu-Natal through farmers and foresters (Henderson, 2001; WESSA, 2008). River and riparian zone rehabilitation is becoming accepted as having an essential role to play in the long term solution of water resource quality and supply problems and environmental health as a whole. As a result the impact of IAP invasions on water resources, ecological habitats and the delivery of ecosystem goods and services has undergone much scientific investigation (van Wilgen et al., 2008). Numerous studies have shown that, under most circumstances, removal of IAPs results in a general increase in streamflow and returns a stream to a more natural seasonal flow regime. However, scientific studies on the influences of woody IAPs on the hydrogeomorphology of riparian areas, and the resultant effects on stream hydrology and ecology, have undergone little scientific investigation in the South African context. Hydrogeomorphology studies the linkages of surface and subsurface water, and hydrological processes with landforms and geomorphic processes in temporal and spatial dimensions. As a result the discipline is well applied to the study of the interaction of, and interdisciplinary impacts of IAPs on riparian areas. Macdonald (2004:22) stated that there is a need to “investigate the interaction of IAPs with other aspects of water quality, for example soil erosion rates, including river channel and bank erosion.” In the early 1990s, after a study assessing the potential impact of IAPs on the geomorphology of river channels in South Africa, Rowntree (1991) stressed that further research on the influence of IAPs on stream geomorphology is required to guide truly effective riparian zone management. Since this study, little scientific work has been undertaken on this topic in the South African context. The literature review portion of this dissertation reviews the findings of various researchers as to how IAPs physically influence riparian habitats, specifically with reference to the role of IAPs in degrading riparian and streambank landscapes to an extent that streambank stability and stream channel form is adversely affected. This topic is introduced by illustrating the many functions that riparian zones can perform and some of the possible consequences of a loss of riparian habitat integrity. Worldwide awareness of the functions and values of riparian systems has led many countries to perform inventories of threatened and valuable riparian areas. A database of stream habitat integrity is useful for environmental impact assessments, development planning and resource inventories. Thus a multitude of stream survey and aquatic health sampling techniques and methodologies have been developed, some of which could be applied to assessing the influence of IAPs on riparian zones. 1.1 Research Aims and Objectives This dissertation forms a research study based on field research centred around field methods and tools developed after a review of relevant literature. The key aims of this research study are to; · refine an international river habitat survey method for application within South Africa, and · develop a test case to implement the developed method in analysing the impacts of IAPs on stream hydrogeomorphology in small headwater streams of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. These aims are achieved through the following objectives; · investigate the current body of knowledge covering the impact of woody IAP invasions on streambank stability and channel form, · review available stream survey methods and develop a stream survey methodology which can be applied to investigate the relationships between woody IAP invasions and streambank stability and form within headwater streams of KwaZulu-Natal, · investigate the relationships illustrated by the data after applying the developed stream survey tools and fieldwork methodology, and · discuss any shortfalls of the developed tools and methods, and suggest future needs. The hypothesis of the study contends that, within the focus of this study, invasion of headwater streams by woody IAPs can result in; · increased channel incision and bank steepening, and · an increase in streambank instability. 1.2 Document Structure Chapters 2 to 4 form a review of current literature to establish a base of understanding of the implications, processes and components involved in the invasion of riparian zones by Invasive Alien Plants. In Chapter 5 the approaches to stream surveying are assessed and selected methods of stream survey seen as applicable to this study are reviewed. Based on these findings, a method of stream survey for application in this study is developed and described in Chapter 6 following a description of the fieldwork sites and methodology. Chapter 7 provides an extensive analysis and exploration of the results of the various components of the fieldwork, which are then discussed in Chapter 8. Chapter 9 outlines final conclusions, analysis of the applicability of the findings, and suggestions with regards to future research needs.


Thesis (M.Sc.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2010.


Invasive plants--Research--KwaZulu-Natal., Alien plants--Research--KwaZulu-Natal., Hydrology--Research--KwaZulu-Natal., Riparian ecology--KwaZulu-Natal., Stream ecology--KwaZulu-Natal., Theses--Bioresources engineering and environmental hydrology.