New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2009) 33(2): 190- 204

Distribution and spread of environmental weeds along New Zealand roadsides

Research Article
Jon J. Sullivan 1*
Peter A. Williams 2
Susan M. Timmins 3
Mark C. Smale 4
  1. Bio-Protection Research Centre, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, Private Bag 6, Nelson 7042, New Zealand
  3. Research, Development & Improvement, Department of Conservation, PO Box 10-420, Wellington 6143, New Zealand
  4. Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Most non-native weeds and other naturalised plants are in the early stages of invasion into New Zealand landscapes. For this invasion to be controlled, even partially, it is important to understand the dominant routes, mechanisms, and rates of weed spread across landscapes. With their linear corridors of disturbed habitats, roadsides are thought to play a large role in the spread of some weeds. We used both new surveys and existing data to assess which of the 328 environmental weeds listed by the Department of Conservation are most frequently found and where on roadsides, and whether distribution patterns are consistent with linear dispersal. We also analysed historical survey data for relationships between reserve weediness and proximity to roads. We surveyed 340 plots of 100-m-long stretches of roadside across four regions and found between 2 and 19 environmental weeds per plot; 128 species in total (Chao estimate 148). Especially abundant were agricultural (weeds and cultivated) species, species that have been naturalised for well over 50 years, and species that disperse externally attached to vertebrates. While we purposefully sampled within 10 km of town limits, we found no strong effect of distance from town on roadside weed richness, including richness of just ornamentally sourced weeds. Instead, number of houses within 250 m and presence of an adjacent house or other residential structure were both important, as was presence of woody vegetation on and adjacent to roadsides. Reserves adjacent to roads had significantly higher weed richness than reserves further from roads, although the causal mechanisms are unclear. Our results suggest that while roadsides include suitable habitats for most environmental weeds, distributions are patchy and roads show little sign of acting as linear dispersal corridors, instead they largely reflect neighbouring land uses. As such, roadside weeds should best be managed as part of the wider landscape.