Unleashing an Army to Repair Alien-Ravaged Ecosystems

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Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 562-563
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_562

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After centuries of colonization and trade, South Africa is now home to alien species from Australia, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As an antidote, a pioneering program called Working for Water (WfW) has cleared about 1 million hectares of invasive species in the past 15 years. WfW has restored ecosystems by taking aim at some 200 alien plant species that clog waterways, degrade farmland, and heighten wildfire threat. Major efforts have included successful campaigns to control South American pompom weed, a meter-high plant that threatened to run rampant in KwaZulu-Natal province; clear invasive plants for ecosystem restoration along Kruger National Park's major rivers; and facilitate production of "eco-coffins" and school desks made from cleared invasives. At the same time, WfW has created tens of thousands of jobs in a country where one out of every four adults is unemployed.