Unresolved native range taxonomy complicates inferences in invasion ecology: Acacia dealbata Link as an example

Heidi Hirsch*, Laure Gallien, Fiona A. C. Impson, Catharina Kleinjan, David M. Richardson, Johannes J. Le Roux

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Elaborate and expensive endeavours are underway worldwide to understand and manage biological invasions. However, the success of such efforts can be jeopardised due to taxonomic uncertainty. We highlight how unresolved native range taxonomy can complicate inferences in invasion ecology using the invasive tree Acacia dealbata in South Africa as an example. Acacia dealbata is thought to comprise two subspecies based on morphological characteristics and environmental requirements within its native range in Australia: ssp. dealbata and spp. subalpina. Biological control is the most promising option for managing invasive A. dealbata populations in South Africa, but it remains unknown which genetic/taxonomic entities are present in the country. Resolving this question is crucial for selecting appropriate biological control agents and for identifying areas with the highest invasion risk. We used species distribution models (SDMs) and phylogeographic approaches to address this issue. The ability of subspecies-specific and overall species SDMs to predict occurrences in South Africa was also explored. Furthermore, as non-overlapping bioclimatic niches between the two taxonomic entities may translate into evolutionary distinctiveness, we also tested genetic distances between the entities using DNA sequencing data and network analysis. Both approaches were unable to differentiate the two putative subspecies of A. dealbata. However, the SDM approach revealed a potential niche shift in the non-native range, and DNA sequencing results suggested repeated introductions of different native provenances into South Africa. Our findings provide important information for ongoing biological control attempts and highlight the importance of resolving taxonomic uncertainties in invasion ecology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1715-1722
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA sequencing
  • Fabaceae
  • species distribution models
  • subspecies
  • tree invasions


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