Climate change and the potential distribution of an invasive alien plant: Acacia nilotica ssp. indica in Australia.
Acacia nilotica is a spinescent woody legume that has become highly invasive in several parts of the world, including Australia where it has been declared a weed of national significance. Understanding the likely potential distribution of this notorious plant under current and future climate scenarios will enable policy makers and land managers to prepare appropriate strategies to manage the invasion. CLIMEX was used to synthesize available information from diverse sources to model the invasion potential of A. nilotica and gain insights into the climatic factors limiting its range expansion. The model identified areas at risk of further invasion so that early preventative or ameliorative measures could be undertaken in a timely manner. The potential distribution of A. nilotica in Australia under current climatic conditions is vast, and far greater than the current distribution. Global climate change is likely to increase markedly the potential distribution of A. nilotica in Australia, significantly increasing the area at risk of invasion. The factors of most importance are the expected increases in water-use efficiency of A. nilotica due to increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations, allowing it to invade more xeric sites further inland, and increased temperatures, allowing it to complete its reproductive life cycle further southward (poleward). Synthesis and applications. Simple paddock quarantine procedures may provide a means of limiting the range of A. nilotica within its potential distribution under current, as well as future, climate scenarios. The projected increased growth potential of A. nilotica throughout its current range suggests that if future management patterns result in seed pods lying unconsumed on the ground, heightened vigilance may be required to identify and eradicate new invasion foci arising from flood dispersal. The increased growth potential may also result in an alteration of the economic balance, in favour of harvesting A. nilotica for agroforestry or local bioenergy projects. A crucial component in containing this invasion will be raising public awareness of the invasion threat posed by A. nilotica, its identification and suitable control techniques.