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Why non-native grasses pose a critical emerging threat to biodiversity conservation, habitat connectivity and agricultural production in multifunctional rural landscapes

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-04-19, 02:07 authored by Robert Godfree, Jennifer Firn, Stephanie JohnsonStephanie Johnson, Nunzio Knerr, Jacqui Stol, Veronica Doerr
Context: Landscape-scale conservation planning is key to the protection of biodiversity globally. Central to this approach is the development of multifunctional rural landscapes (MRLs) that maintain the viability of natural ecosystems and promote animal and plant dispersal alongside agricultural land uses. Objectives: We investigate evidence that non-native grasses (NNGs) in rangelands and other low-intensity agricultural systems pose a critical threat to landscape conservation initiatives in MRLs both in Australia and globally. Methods: We first establish a simple socio-ecological model that classifies different rural landscape elements within typical MRLs based on their joint conservation and agro-economic value. We then quantify the impacts of eight Australian NNGs (Andropogon gayanus, Cenchrus ciliaris, Eragrostis curvula, Hyparrhenia hirta, Nassella neesiana, Nassella trichotoma, Phalaris aquatica and Urochloa mutica) on different landscape elements and then classify and describe the socio-ecological transformations that result at the MRL scale. Results: Our data indicate that two broad classes of NNGs exist. The first reduces both conservation and agro-economic value (‘co-degrading’ species) of invaded landscapes, while the second improves agro-economic value at the expense of conservation value (‘trade-off’ species). Crucially, however, both classes cause hardening of the landscape matrix, agricultural intensification, reduced habitat connectivity, and the loss of multi-value land use types that are vital for landscape conservation. Conclusions: NNGs drive socio-ecological transformations that pose a growing threat to landscape-scale connectivity and conservation initiatives in Australia and globally. There is an urgent need for further research into the impacts of NNGs on habitat connectivity and biodiversity within multifunctional landscapes, and the socio-ecological goals that can be achieved when landscape transformation and degradation by these species is unavoidable.


Australian Government Biodiversity Fund (Grant LSP-944101- 899)


Publication Date



Landscape Ecology






24p. (p. 1219-1242)





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