John Ross Wilson

Areas of interest

Biological invasions represent both a fascinating test of ecological and evolutionary theory and a major challenge to natural resource management. As such they provide an important opportunity to do fundamental research that has outcomes with direct relevance to management and policy. I have a couple of specific research interests:

Post-border assessments and determining eradication feasibility

Even with no new introductions, the number of biological invasions in South Africa will increase as introduced species naturalise and become invasive. As of 2010 South Africa had ~8,750 introduced plant taxa, 660 naturalised, 198 included in invasive species legislation, but only 64 subject to regular control, a major invasion debt. This invasion debt can be reduced by detecting, evaluating and eradicating invasions. It also presents an opportunity to look at the mechanisms behind invasions. Why are introduced populations not more widespread? While citing the existence of a lag phase or Allee effect is tempting, the lack of spread may often simply be a functional of the number of individuals that were introduced and various factors restricting spread.

As part of work funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs, we are working on providing the scientific basis for regulations and developing eradication plans where it is feasible. Specifically we are assessing:

For a copy of the position paper, click here.

Clearing teams surveying the area for Acacia paradoxa

Acacia paradoxa has invaded the northern sections of Table Mountain (D2) and is targeted for eradication. Clearing teams are systematically surveying the area for new plants

See Zenni et al. 2009 and
Moore et al. 2011

Melaleuca parvistaminea can potentially be eradicated

Melaleuca parvistaminea can potentially be eradicated from the Tulbagh Valley, but stopping reproduction will require careful and on-going intestive surveys

See Jacobs et al. 2014

The core goal of SANBI's Invasive Species Programme

The core goal of SANBI's Invasive Species Programme is to manage South Africa's invasion debt

See Rouget et al. 2016

Developing risk assessment processes for introduced species

Much progress has been made in creating scientifically based lists of species that are of conservation concern including the red listing process. Similar attention is urgently needed to defining biological invasions. There are several important challenges, e.g. defining cultivars, determining search effort, understanding historical databases.

A proposed scheme for categorising invaders

A scheme for categorising invaders as by Blackburn et al. 2011.

See Blackburn et al. 2011 and Wilson et al. 2014 for an example of it implemented

The Environmental Impact Classification of Alien Taxa Scheme

The Environmental Impact Classification of Alien Taxa Scheme

See Blackburn et al. 2014 and Hawkins et al. 2015

Reporting on the state of biological invasions

South Africa's National Strategy for Biological Invasions

South Africa's National Strategy for Biological Invasions

A key challenge in invasion science is to develop a standardised system to monitor and report on the state of invasions. In response to this need, South Africa has committed to producing a National Status Report on Biological Invasions by October 2017 and thereafter every three years. This will link closely to the national strategy, and in particular will concentrate on biological invasions from the different perspectives of areas, pathways, and species.

Other projects

I'm interested in a number of other research areas, including:

Urban invasions

When and where plants in gardens represent a significant threat

Understanding when and where plants in gardens represent a significant threat of invasion is an important step.

and soil biodiversity

Biodiversity both above and below ground

South Africa has globally significant biodiversity both above and below ground.

For more details see Janion-Scheepers et al. 2016

Prospective students

We have a dynamic and growing group working on basic ecology, modelling spread, and risk assessment. E-mail me to discuss post-graduate projects.

SANBI's Invasive Species Programme also offers some bursaries each year to work on assessing introduced species for which the possibility of eradication has not been ruled out, and on detecting new invasions. An advert will go out usually at the end of July each year.