Biological Invasions

, Volume 18, Issue 8, pp 2153–2158 | Cite as

First record of Spartina alterniflora in southern Africa indicates adaptive potential of this saline grass

  • Janine AdamsEmail author
  • Ernita van Wyk
  • Taryn Riddin
Invasive spartina


Spartina alterniflora was recorded in 2004 in the Great Brak Estuary, a system along the southern coast of South Africa that closes to the sea. This is alarming as this is a species with a known history as an aggressive invasive plant which has now been found 8000 km from its nearest known location and furthermore it is spreading under atypical conditions of submergence. This first recorded population in Africa indicates the adaptive potential of this invasive grass which survives inundation and non-tidal conditions for months at a time. Spartina alterniflora spread from 2566 m2 in 2006 to a maximum area covered of 10,221 m2 in 2011. There was an increase in silt, sediment organic matter and a significant reduction in sediment redox potential at sites invaded by S. alterniflora. When the estuary closes to the sea the water level rises and S. alterniflora is flooded, limiting opportunities for mechanical and chemical control. Application of a glyphosate-based herbicide in 2012 showed that chemical control was more effective in reducing the stands than mechanical removal. The additional use of imazapyr in 2014 significantly reduced stem density and the proportion of live stems. Spread of this invasive plant to the intertidal marshes in adjacent estuaries is a potential biodiversity threat although, fortunately, this population does not seem to produce viable seed. There is also the concern that hybridization with the resident S. maritima may occur. Important research and management questions remain i.e. how quickly will the natural marsh re-establish following eradication and how can we prevent movement of the grass to other estuaries?


Sediment characteristics Redox potential Inundation Chemical control Salt marsh 



This research was supported by the National Research Foundation and the South African National Department of Environment Affairs through its funding of the South African National Biodiversity Institute Invasive Species Programme. Nolwethu Jubase, Virgil Jacobs, Lyndle Naidoo, Evania Lombard and Simone Van der Linden are thanked for their assistance in the field and laboratory.


  1. Adams JB, Bate GC, O’Callaghan M (1999) Estuarine primary producers. In: Allanson BR, Baird D (eds) Estuaries of South Africa. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 91–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams JB, Grobler A, Rowe C, Riddin T, Bornman TG, Ayres DR (2012) Plant traits and spread of the invasive salt marsh grass, Spartina alterniflora Loisel., in the Great Brak Estuary, South Africa. Afr J Mar Sci 34(3):313–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ayres DR, Garcia-Rossi D, Davis HG, Strong DR (1999) Extent and degree of hybridization between exotic (Spartina alterniflora) and native (S. foliosa) cordgrass (Poaceae) in California, USA determined by random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPDs). Mol Ecol 8:1179–1186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Callaway JC, Josselyn YN (1992) The introduction and spread of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) in South San Francisco Bay. Estuaries 15:218–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chung CH (2006) Forty years of ecological engineering with Spartina plantations in China. Ecol Eng 27:49–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Daehler CC, Strong DR (1996) Status, prediction and prevention of introduced cordgrass Spartina spp. invasions in Pacific estuaries, USA. Biol Conserv 78:51–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gray AJ, Marshall DF, Raybould AF (1991) A century of evolution in Spartina anglica. Adv Ecol Res 21:1–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Huizinga P (2003) The Great Brak Estuary management programme. Review Report. CSIR Report No. ENV-S-C-2003-092. Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Stellenbosch, South AfricaGoogle Scholar
  9. Human LRD, Snow GC, Adams JB, Bate GC, Yang S-C (2015) The role of submerged macrophytes and macroalgae in nutrient cycling: a budget approach. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 154:169–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Levin LA, Neira C, Grosholz ED (2006) Invasive cordgrass modifies wetland trophic function. Ecology 87:419–432CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Marchant CJ (1967) Evolution in Spartina (Gramineae). I. History and morphology of the genus in Britain. Bot J Linn Soc 60:1–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Neira C, Levin LA, Grosholz ED (2006) Benthic macrofaunal communities of three sites in San Francisco Bay invaded by hybrid Spartina, with comparison to uninvaded habitats. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 292:111–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Patten K (2002) Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) control with imazapyr. Weed Technol 16:826–832CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Patten K (2003) Persistence and non-target impact of imazapyr associated with smooth cordgrass control in an estuary. J Aquat Plant Manag 41:1–6Google Scholar
  15. Strong DR, Ayres DR (2013) Ecological and evolutionary misadventures of Spartina. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 44:389–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Wan S, Qin P, Liu J, Zhou H (2009) The positive and negative effects of exotic Spartina alterniflora in China. Ecol Eng 35:444–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Zhou L, Yin S, An S, Yang W, Deng Q, Xie D, Ji H, Ouyang Y, Cheng X (2014) Spartina alterniflora invasion alters carbon exchange and soil organic carbon in eastern salt marsh of China. CLEAN–Soil Air Water 42:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BotanyNelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa
  2. 2.Invasive Species ProgrammeSouth African National Biodiversity Institute, Kirstenbosch Research CentreClaremontSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations