Alien invasive species have been prioritised as one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. Unfortunately, many invasive species are here to stay despite huge amounts of money being spent on control, eradication and rehabilitation. As a result there is an increasing call for greater control of the introduction and spread of invasive species. Sometimes seeds from invasive plants can hitch a ride with unsuspecting accomplices and can end up many miles from the original parent plant. In 2013 SANParks and Magnetic South decided that it would be better to err on the side of caution and implemented the shoe cleaning station during the registration process. Athletes were asked to allow volunteers to brush and clean their shoes of any external or internal biological debris to determine if we (I am also an avid trail runner) could be potentially transporting alien invasive seeds on our shoes into the protected area.
The debri we collected was then used in a germination study to enable us to identity individual plant species. Although we are still waiting for some expert confirmation on some species identification we have some interesting initial results.
Over 300 individual plants germinated during our trials representing about 30 different species. Of those identified all were are listed on the Global compendium of weeds, six are invasive and known to already occur in the Garden Route National Park whilst five are classified as weeds, none of which are presently recorded in the protected area.
As trail runners we could most certainly, and unintentionally, be transporting plant seeds on our shoes. My experience with trail running is part of the reason we do it is to visit new areas, to see new sights and to re-new our connection to nature. I am certain none of us want to inadvertently transport alien invasive species, in particular within protected areas that are dedicated to protecting our rich natural heritage. Luckily the solution is simple – firstly clean your shoes and your other gear (backpacks) before and after every run, secondly increase the awareness amongst other runners and encourage them to do the same.
Go run, have fun and enjoy nature but do it with a clean sole.
Kyle Smith – Marine Ecologist