Invasive plants and water resources in the Western Cape Province, South Africa: modelling the consequences of a lack of management.

Published online
14 Jun 1996
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Maitre, D. C. le & Wilgen, B. W. van & Chapman, R. A. & McKelly, D. H.

Publication language
Africa South of Sahara & South Africa


The invasion of fynbos shrublands by woody weed species can reduce the water yield from catchment areas dramatically. The consequences of uncontrolled invasion on water yield were modelled using a geographical information system (Arc/Info). Five important processes were recognized: the occurrence of fire; the spread and establishment of alien plants after fire; rainfall-to-run-off ratios; growth and changes in biomass between fires; and effects of these changes on streamflow. The simulations of water yield were modelled with the Arc/Info GRID module using a 200 × 200-m grid. Results for the Kogelberg area in the Western Cape Province, South Africa, showed that alien plants invaded about 40% of the grid cells within 50 years. Cover of alien plants increased from an initial estimate of 2.4% to 62.4% after 100 years. Invasion of catchment areas would result in an average decrease of 347 m3 of water per hectare per year over 100 years, resulting in average losses of more than 30% of the water supply to the city of Cape Town. In individual years, where large areas would be covered by mature trees, losses would be much greater. In addition, invasion of fynbos by alien plants would cause the extinction of many plant species, increase the intensity of fires, destabilize catchment areas with resultant erosion and diminished water quality, and decrease the aesthetic appeal of mountain areas. It is concluded that control of alien weed species is necessary to avert the above impacts, and the costs of control operations could be justified by the savings achieved in maintaining adequate water run-off from stable catchments in the long term.

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