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Analysing the Risks Posed by Biological Invasions to South Africa (lay summary)

This is a lay summary of the article published under the DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-32394-3_20

Published onApr 30, 2023
Analysing the Risks Posed by Biological Invasions to South Africa (lay summary)

What could go wrong when importing plants and animals from other countries to South Africa?

To bring new species into South Africa, people need to obtain the right permits and must provide information on any risks those species may pose to local plants and animals. These rules help prevent the introduction of organisms that might become invasive, making it harder for native species to survive and cause harm to local ecosystems.

Scientists say, however, that the process for determining these risks is unclear, and that this can make it harder for people to understand or follow the rules. 

In South Africa there are several systems in place to protect local plants and animals from invasive species. For example, to get a permit to bring a new species into the country, an applicant  must provide information on the species’ life cycle, their ecology and how it will be used. This information provides an important starting point to understand the risks involved. 

A common way of analysing and presenting information about these risks is a technique called risk analysis. A biological risk analysis explains the chance that a species will become invasive, along with how to manage the species, and how to control it. 

Completing a risk analysis for a new species is also a legal requirement in South Africa, but the process can be confusing.

In this study, researchers wanted to understand how easy it was to predict the risks involved in bringing foreign species into the country, and whether the requirements for completing a risk analysis were clear. They therefore reviewed the laws and processes that must be followed when people want to import plants, animals, or other organisms into South Africa.

The researchers found that there were no clear guidelines for how to complete a risk analysis when applying to bring a new species into the country. They also said that there isn’t any standardised way to present this information, which could make it difficult for people to accurately analyse the risks.

They added that the way decisions were made was also unclear, and that this could lead to people not understanding why they were made. This could make these decisions harder to enforce, because the public and other important stakeholders weren’t fully informed about the risks.

To address these problems, the researchers recommended that there should be a standardised framework and clear methods outlined for how to calculate risk. Other important factors include ensuring that the risk analysis is accurate, and that any decisions made about managing a species can be easily followed in the real world. They also said that it is important for an independent group of scientists to review any decisions that are made, to avoid bias in the process.

The study was conducted by researchers working in South Africa, and forms part of a book about biological invasions in the country.


Risk analysis is an important decision-support tool for the management of biological invasions. South Africa, as a signatory to international agreements, has enacted legislation requiring risk analyses to be conducted if trade is to be restricted or regulated and if alien species are to be introduced. In this chapter, we outline the various needs for risk analyses for biological invasions in South Africa, summarise the current status, and make recommendations for a way forward. In particular, we highlight the need to move away from approaches that are purely based on expert opinion or entirely reactive, and propose a new system and process which includes the use of a structured risk analysis framework with clear guidelines to avoid expert bias. We highlight the need to assess risk, consider risk management options (including benefits), and to develop clear recommendations. The proposed process also involves the review of recommendations by an independent panel. We further note that the effectiveness of such approaches will be defined by their transparency, their accuracy, how feasible they are to implement in practice, and the trust that people have in the system.


This summary is a free resource intended to make African research and research that affects Africa, more accessible to non-expert global audiences. It was compiled by ScienceLink's team of professional African science communicators as part of the Masakhane MT: Decolonise Science project. ScienceLink has taken every precaution possible during the writing, editing, and fact-checking process to ensure that this summary is easy to read and understand, while accurately reporting on the facts presented in the original research paper. Note, however, that this summary has not been fact-checked or approved by the authors of the original research paper, so this summary should be used as a secondary resource. Therefore, before using, citing or republishing this summary, please verify the information presented with the original authors of the research paper, or email [email protected] for more information.

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