The impacts of invasive weeds in Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Mikania (Mikania micrantha) is a tropical vine which is native to the Americas. Often referred to as the ‘Mile-a-Minute Weed,’ mikania grows rapidly in areas of high rainfall and has become highly invasive in parts of Asia and the Pacific. Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, invasive species are defined as alien species that threaten native ecosystems, habitats or species and in Nepal, mikania and other invasive plants such as chromolaena (Chromolaena odorata) are becoming increasingly problematic within the Chitwan National Park (CNP). There, the plants are having a serious negative impact on native grasses, shrubs and the one-horned rhinoceros, and by implication, deer and tiger populations. They are also affecting the local people who reside in the buffer zones and rely on the park for fodder and other materials.

A rhino amongst chromolaena
A rhino amongst chromolaena

Rhinos

In a specific study on mikania, scientists from the National Trust for Nature Conservation, Nepal with support from CABI and the Zoological Society of London have found a significant negative relationship between high mikania coverage and the population of rhinos. This is because the mikania vine smothers the fodder plants that the rhinos feed on. This could also be influencing their movement to other areas of the park where they feed on resources and crops important to local people. This in turn may exacerbate conflict between the residents of the buffer zones and the wildlife in the area.

Deer and Tigers

The reduction in fodder plants is likely also to cause a mirrored decrease in the number of deer in the park. Deer feed on similar plants to the rhinos and the impact of mikania on native vegetation is therefore likely to affect their feeding behaviour in a comparable manner. As a result a decrease in deer numbers is likely to have a negative impact on tiger populations, with tiger numbers being directly related to the populations of their prey.

Local people

The residents of the buffer zones surrounding the CNP are known to rely on the core area of the park for resources such as fodder, which they use to feed their livestock. These residents recognise that fodder availability within the park has decreased and report that collecting materials now takes three times as long as it has in previous years to gather the same amount of fodder. Reduced fodder has been attributed to flooding of the park and the spread of invasive plant species. In particular, a high proportion of local residents report that mikania has a significant negative impact on the fodder growing in the park.

Sustainable control of mikania weed

CABI piloted using a rust fungus (Puccinia spegazzinii) as a classical biological control agent for mikania weed in India. This highly host specific and damaging pathogen has now been released in Papua New Guinea and Taiwan, where it is having a significant impact on the growth of the weed. The rust has recently been released on a number of other Pacific Islands, and could be considered for release in Nepal.

Ebola and IAS

A conversation with Dr Arne Witt

Dr Arne WittThe recent outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa made headline news around the world. During the outbreak this fatal disease, endemic to parts of Central and West Africa, rapidly spread from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia to other countries in the region such as Nigeria, Mali and Senegal and then further afield to the USA, UK and Spain, mainly through infected health workers. This prompted decisive action from governments around the world and led to the implementation of strict controls at most national points of entry – as a result of this action and increased awareness, the further spread of this disease was effectively halted. No new infections have been reported for a number of months now but the cost has been significant – more than 10,000 people lost their lives, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. However, it is highly probable that without significant interventions the costs could have been far higher. For example, the outbreak of bubonic plague or Black Death in Europe in the 17th century resulted in the death of 34 million people. The accidental introduction of potato blight, a crop disease which affects potatoes, from the Americas to Ireland in the mid-1800s contributed to the starvation of about 1 million people. Rinderpest, a disease affecting livestock was accidentally introduced to Africa from Asia in the late 19th century resulting in the deaths of, it is claimed, a third of the human population of what is now Ethiopia and two-thirds of the Maasai, an ethnic group of pastoralists in East Africa who are totally dependent on livestock. We may ask what Ebola, potato blight and rinderpest have in common – well obviously they have all have had a devastating impact on humanity but what binds them all together is that they are all INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES (IAS). Fortunately, due to concerted efforts by a range of agencies rinderpest has been eradicated from the planet but as a result of increased trade, travel and tourism more and more species are being moved around the world and many are establishing and are continuing to have devastating impact on livelihoods. Continue reading

Green Invasion: Destroying Livelihoods in Africa [Video]

CABI, together with Tmax Productions, have produced a video called the ‘Green Invasion – Destroying Livelihoods in Africa.” The short film (approx. 7mins long) details how invasive weeds are impacting on the lives of rural communities in East Africa.

Although a large number of non-native species have become invasive in the region, this film focusses on four of the most problematic species namely Chromolaena odorata (Devil weed), Parthenium hysterophorus (famine weed), Prosopis juliflora (Mathenge) and Opuntia stricta (erect prickly pear). The excellent footage shows the extent of  weed infestations with accounts from community members on how these invasive plants are destroying the natural resource base on which they depend. It is clear that invasive weeds are destroying traditions, cultures and a way of life for millions of people on the continent.

However, all is not lost. The film notes that if effective management programmes are implemented, including biological control, we can make a difference to many people’s lives.

Although of general interest, the film is intended to raise the profile of invasive species and their impacts on livelihoods amongst donors and governments. We need them to take action and provide support for initiatives to manage one of the biggest threats to economic development on the planet.

Arne Witt
CABI Regional Coordinator, Invasives (Africa & Asia)
@WittArne