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Keywords:

  • exotic;
  • grass;
  • introduced species;
  • legume;
  • pasture;
  • weed

Abstract I surveyed the history of exotic pasture introductions in northern Australia to compare the rate of introduction of useful species with that of weeds. Between 1947 and 1985, 463 exotic grasses and legumes in at least 2033 accessions were intentionally introduced into the region, the grasses predominantly from Africa, and the legumes from Central and South America. Of these, only 21 (5%) came to be recommended as useful, while 60 (13%) became listed as weeds. Seventeen of the useful plants were in fact also weeds, leaving only 4 species (<1%) that were useful without causing weed problems. They were far outnumbered by the 43 species (9%) that were weeds but had no recorded use. Of the 60 weeds, 21 were weeds of cropping, 20 were weeds of conservation and 19 were weeds of both sectors. Thirteen were listed as major crop weeds. Growth rate, maximum height, seed size, and continent of origin were unrelated to weediness. Good predictors of weediness were whether a plant was useful, a good performer in trials, or persisted at a field site. In addition, grasses were more likely, and legumes less likely, to be weedy than expected. It is argued that a new form of assessment is required before an exotic plant species is released into the Australian environment as a pasture plant. This would recognize that a successful introduction is almost certain to become a weed in some situations, and would attempt to assess the net national benefit of the proposed introduction.