Invasive Alien Species: SA leads the fight as international report highlights biodiversity threat.

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Buffel grass is mentioned in a landmark global report on invasive species.

Invasive Alien Species: SA leads the fight as international report highlights biodiversity threat.

A landmark report released last week by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recognises the destructive potential of the ecological transformer weed Buffel grass. The Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control was welcomed by the South Australian Government and the Alinytjara Wiluṟara Landscape Board (AWLB) which has led the fight against buffel grass in remote South Australia for over a decade.

“The South Australian Government recognises the threat posed by buffel grass in the rangelands, both to the unique desert ecosystems and the Indigenous communities who have such a deep connection to Country,” says Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate, Environment and Water, Susan Close. “This report highlights the need for action on invasive species and supports our efforts to manage their threat. We are both supporting and being led by the Alinytjara Wiluṟara Landscape Board, which has demonstrated a long-term commitment to understanding and managing buffel grass in the state.”

The IPBES is the global science-policy body tasked with providing the best-available evidence to decision-makers about biodiversity. With invasive alien species identified as a major driver of biodiversity loss, this new report examines the impact and drivers of invasive animal and plant species and offers policy options for effective management.

Developed over more than four years, the report was prepared by 86 international experts from 49 countries, drawing on more than 13,000 scientific articles, government reports, and Indigenous and local knowledge. The report also includes a significant discussion on the impact of invasive alien species on Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Buffel grass is a transformer weed, which has the potential to completely take over arid ecosystems, forcing out native plant and animal species and disrupting remote Indigenous communities with heightened fire risk, damage to cultural sites, and a reduction in ability to pass on cultural knowledge to the next generation. Buffel grass was a factor in recent uncontrolled fires around Alice Springs, as well as the devastating wildfires on Maui in August.

“This report offers a broad and inclusive view of the issues related to invasive species,” says Dr Ellen Ryan-Colton, a South Australian buffel grass researcher who contributed to the IPBES report. “It covers the whole gamut of what the problem is and what to do about it.”

Dr Ryan-Colton says that the work of Indigenous communities was fundamental to understanding the impacts of invasive alien species. “IPBES are at the forefront of including Indigenous knowledge in their reporting and recognising the impacts on human communities. First Nations peoples have long been documenting these issues through stories, songs, videos, statements and reports,” she says. “Thanks to their efforts, we were able to draw on this knowledge at a global level and show that First Nations people around the world are experiencing the detrimental effects of alien species.”

Although buffel is a Declared weed in South Australia, it is still sown as pasture in other states. Left unmanaged, buffel grass poses a threat to grazing and cropping systems, as it spreads quickly under the hotter and stormier weather that climate change is bringing.

“Invasive alien species are one of the key threats to our imperilled species and ecosystems,” says Dr Fiona Fraser, Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner. “The Australian Government recognises buffel grass as a threat to our desert plants and animals such as the Waddy-wood, Tjakura, and Greater Bilby. It is only through the dedicated work of partnerships like the Alinytjara Wiluṟara Landscape Board, Indigenous Ranger groups, National Parks and others in northern South Australia that we can effectively tackle a widespread invader like buffel grass.”

By pooling State Government’s Landscape Priorities Fund and AWLB’s funds, more than $2.2M will be spent on leading a multi-agency buffel grass program, working with Indigenous Ranger groups, neighbouring landscape boards, National Parks and other stakeholders to address the significant issue through strategy, action and advocacy.

“Although we’ve devoted significant effort and resources to fighting its spread, it will remain a ‘David and Goliath’ battle without broader recognition and response,” says AWLB Chair Mick Haynes. “The IPBES report is encouraging. Of particular note is the mention of the impact such invasive species have on wellbeing and quality of life of human populations. As an all-Aboriginal board, we recognise that culture and Country are inextricably linked so the fight is an existential one for Indigenous communities.”

AWLB Buffel Grass State Coordinator, Troy Bowman, is optimistic that this report will stimulate a more vigorous and coordinated national approach to the threats posed by buffel grass. “Buffel grass is a wicked problem in the arid rangelands of Australia but for many people it’s been flying under the radar,” he says. “It transforms entire ecosystems, pushing threatened species closer to extinction and putting remote communities at severe risk. This includes a marked increase in fire danger as recently seen around Alice Springs and even in Hawaii. With the report having been approved by more than 130 member countries of the IPBES, it underlines the need and urgency for greater understanding of the threat of invasive species and how to best manage them.”

Invasive Alien Species: SA leads the fight as international report highlights biodiversity threat.

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