Assessing the Socio-Ecological Implications of Vernonathura polyanthes Invasions within Chimanimani Transfrontier Conservation Area

16 Apr 2021 Chimanimani Transfrontier Conservation Area, Zimbabwe, Africa Biodiversity | Communities | Forests | Plants

Lameck Kachena

Vernonathura polyanthes (V. polyanthes) is an invasive plant introduced to southern Africa from South America. In Chimanimani, the V. polyanthes was introduced in the 1970s as a bee fodder by a NGO and for community apiculture farmers in Sussendenga District of Mozambique (Timberlake et al. 2016). It has now spread into the Zimbabwean side and other distant regions in Mozambique. There is a positive correlation between the spread of V. polyanthes with clearance and burning of forests for farming, timber production and mining. Prior assessments indicate that it thrives in disturbed landscapes such as along roadsides, secondary vegetation, timber plantations, dry forests and riparian forests margins at elevations ranging between 345 to 1600m. Given that it quickly reproduces itself through wind dispersal its distribution is facilitated by bioclimatic conditions.

Additionally, based on preliminary interviews with local farmers in Chimanimani in 2019, it is suggested that the V. polyanthes diminishes ecosystem services – pastures and watersheds – critical for rural livelihoods. As a result, social differences exist among locals on how the species can be managed, with one group supporting its proliferation for beekeeping purposes whilst agro-pastoralists, timber companies and tourism associations want the total eradication of the species. Surprisingly, C.TFCA does not have a management framework designed to reduce the infestation of V. polyanthes and this is greatly needed.

This project will conduct a distribution and impact assessment of the threatening invasive alien plant V. polyanthes within Chimanimani Transfrontier Conservation Area (C.TFA) along the Zimbabwe and Mozambique border. It will empower local forest users and conservationists with methodological tools critical for assessing biological invasions in a protected zone. V. polyanthes distribution maps as well as a cost and benefit analysis will be produced to inform management and response plans. Findings will be used to advocate, educate and raise awareness on the implications of V. polyanthes through scientific publications and popular press as well as promote community-led solutions.