Effect of invasion and clearing of alien riparian vegetation on benthic macroinvertebrate and adult odonata assemblages in Soutpansberg rivers
Benthic macroinvertebrates (sampled using South African Scoring System, SASS5) and adult male Odonata (sampled with close-focus binoculars) were recorded on two streams and a river of Soutpansberg, with the aim of determining the effect of invasion and removal of alien riparian vegetation on their assemblages. A secondary aim was to establish the importance of dragonflies as indicators of degree of disturbance in rivers. Forty two aquatic macroinvertebrate families and 33 adult Odonata species were recorded at a total of 71 sampling units. Three distinct riparian vegetation types were selected (natural, alien and cleared). Cleared vegetation refers to clearing of invasive alien trees, allowing regrowth of natural vegetation. Natural and cleared vegetation supported more benthic macroinvertebrate families compared to alien vegetation. Certain families that were lost to alien vegetation were recorded from natural vegetation. The highest SASS5 score was recorded from natural vegetation, followed by cleared vegetation, and the lowest was from alien vegetation. The highest number of adult Odonata was recorded at cleared vegetation, with alien and natural vegetation supporting the least number of Odonata species. Vegetation type, stream flow and microhabitats were statistically identified as the most influential variables for benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages. For adult Odonata assemblages, vegetation type, shade and temperature were the most important environmental variables. Species assemblages of adult Odonata can be used as indicators of environmental condition of rivers. The clearing of alien riparian vegetation clearly benefits the indigenous benthic macroinvertebrates as conditions are restored to their natural state. It also benefits dragonfly species richness, but if natural succession proceeds to a shaded tree canopy, the effect becomes similar to that of habitat shaded by alien vegetation. The impact of alien vegetation is to reduce sun-loving invertebrate species, especially dragonflies, with lesser impact on shade-loving species.