What the Buffel? Just how much damage is this invasive grass doing?

Buffel grass is considered one of the world’s worst invasive grasses and is currently transforming arid ecosystems across a range of habitats on three continents.

In the remote Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) aboriginal lands of South Australia, buffel grass invasion is causing damage to cultural sites and threatening endangered species. Aṉangu people have witnessed buffel grass disrupt important cultural ecosystem services and are requesting more research into this landscape change.

Ellen Ryan-Colton, a PhD student from Charles Darwin University, is embarking on a project which will fill an important research gap as to how buffel grass invasion is actually impacting the unique range of biodiversity in this arid landscape. She will also consider how the invasion affects ecosystem functioning using plant-animal interactions as a model. This is an important step, because Aṉangu are also identifying that their country is functionally in decline after buffel grass invades.

An extensive biological survey of flora, fauna and vegetation communities was conducted in the APY Lands the 1990s and subsequently, over the last two decades, some of the survey sites have been invaded by buffel grass. This presents a unique opportunity to assess changes to these flora and fauna communities post-invasion, using a regional and local scale nested experimental design where data before an invasion is available and some sites in each region remain as uninvaded control sites.

By looking in depth at plant-animal interactions that are ecologically and culturally important, the results of this work will help raise awareness of the breadth of the issue and help to garner support from government and other funders.

Furthermore, in this PhD research indigenous rangers will be working together with researchers which provides an excellent chance for collaboration, capacity building and knowledge sharing.

Ellen Ryan-Colton is the winner of the 2018 Jill Landsberg Trust Fund Scholarship her project “Does Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) invasion impact plant-animal interactions in an arid system?”

She will receive her award at the ESA’s 2018 Conference in Brisbane this November and present the results of her work at ESA 2019. The $6,000 prize is awarded annually by the Ecological Society of Australia in honour of Australian ecologist Jill Landsberg.