Renosterveld restoration : the role of competition, herbivory and other disturbances

Midoko-Iponga, Donald (2004-12)

Thesis (MSc)--University of Stellenbosch, 2004.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: West Coast Renosterveld is one of the most threatened vegetation types in South Africa. Less than 5% of the original extent of this vegetation type remains, of which 80% is on private land. In addition to fragmentation, much of the vegetation has been ploughed for crop production and then abandoned and invaded by alien plants. Restoration of transformed areas may improve the conservation status of this vegetation type. Indigenous species do not return to abandoned agricultural fields for decades even if these are adjacent to natural areas since their return is limited either by seed dispersal or seedling establishment. The aim of this study was to examine the recovery of indigenous vegetation on abandoned fields. Renosterveld, as we know it today, is an asteraceous shrubland, dominated mainly by renosterbos (Eytropappus rhinocerotis), but might have been a grassland or a grassland-shrubland mosaic. Historical records indicate that species of large game were common in the Western Cape when the early settlers arrived, but most of these have since disappeared. It is thus impossible to reconstruct exactly the ecological processes and functioning of Renosterveld. The first part of the study was designed to examine the effects of grass competition, grazing by indigenous large herbivores, and interaction of these two factors on the establishment, growth and survival of transplanted Renosterveld seedlings on an abandoned agricultural field. Experimental transplanting of indigenous shrubs into an old field showed that most of the plants investigated competed for resources with lawn grasses on the field, and competition affected the seedlings throughout the experiment. Mortality was higher, and growth was reduced for seedlings exposed to grass competition. With the exception of wild olive (Olea europaea spp.africana), herbivory alone had no significant impact on the target species. Herbivory was at a low intensity (20 ha/large animal unit); higher grazing pressures might have given different results. No interaction between competition and herbivory was found for the species investigated; competition and grazing therefore seem to influence the seedlings independently. The second part of this study was conducted to examine the effects of different management strategies, viz: brush cutting, burning and herbicide application on plant species recruitment and community composition and to ascertain their applicability by farmers for large scale restoration of Renosterveld. My comparison of the different strategies for controlling annual alien grasses indicated that these did not differ significantly in their effects on species richness. Burning reduced shrub cover and increased overall species richness and diversity. Burning also reduced grass biomass, and increased recruitment of indigenous seedlings. The use of herbicide resolved the problem of grass biomass invasion and increased shrub species richness. The herbicide application did not appear to have long-term negative effects on the soil quality. Brush cutting did not remove grass biomass on the old field. Experimental re-seeding with an indigenous grass and shrub species into treated plots resulted in low recruitment. My conclusion is that grass can reduce recruitment and growth of many indigenous shrub species. My recommendation for the restoration of old fields in West Coast Renosterveld is to apply herbicide to remove grass competition, and then, after the herbicide has degraded, to oversow the field with seeds of indigenous shrub and grass species of early successional stages to increase overall species diversity.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Weskus Renosterveld is een van die mees bedreigde plantegroei soorte in Suid Afrika. Minder as 5% van die oorspronklike omvang van hierdie plantegroei tipe is oor, en dit hoofsaaklik (80%) op privaatlande. Saam met fragmentasie, is baie Renosterveld areas ook omgeploeg vir boerdery en dan net so gelos, met die gevolg dat uitheemse plante hierdie areas ingedring het. Restorasie of herstelling van sulke bewerkte lande kan dalk die bewaringsstatus van hierdie plantegroei tipe verbeter. Natuurlike vestiging van Renosterveld spesies op sulke ou bewerkte lande gebeur nie, selfs al is daar Renosterveld direk langs so ‘n ou veld. Die hervestiging van inheemse spesies is dus tot saadverspreiding or saailingbevestiging beperk. Die doel van hierdie studie is om die stadige terugkoms van inheemse plantegroei na verlate bewerkte velde te verduidelik. Renosterveld is ‘n struikveld waarin die renosterbos (Eytropappus rhinocerotis) domineer, maar kan ook ‘n grasveld of ‘n grasveld-struikland mengsel wees. Groot herbivore was algemeen in die Wes Kaap toe die eerste settelaars gearriveer het, maar intussen het omtrent al die groot wild spesies verdwyn. Dit is dus ontmoontlik om die ekologiese prosesse en funksionering van Renosterveld presies so te herstel. Die eerste deel van hierdie studie bestudeer die effek van graskompetisie, weiding deur inheemse groot herbivore, en die interaksie tussen hierdie twee faktore op die vestiging, groei en oorlewing van oorgeplante Renosterveld saailinge in ‘n verlate ou veld. Die eksperimentele oorplanting van inheemse struike in ‘n ou land het gewys dat die meeste van hierdie plante kompeteer vir hulpbronne met kweekgras wat op die ou veld groei. Kompetisie het die saailinge deur die hele eksperiment geaffekteer. ‘n Hoër mortaliteit en verminderede groei in saailinge wat aan gras kompetisie blootgestel was, is waargeneem. Met die uitsondering van Olea europaea spp. africana, het herbivorie alleen geen betekenisvolle impak op plant spesies gehad nie. Weidingsdruk was laag (20 ha/groot vee eenheid); ‘n groter weidingsdruk sou miskien ‘n ander uitkoms gehad het. Geen interaksie tussen kompetisie en herbivorie is waargeneem in die bestudeerde plantspesies nie. Dit wil dus voorkom of kompetisie en weiding die saailinge onafhanklik van mekaar beïnvloed. Die tweede deel van hierdie studie was onderneem om die effek van verskillende behandelings (kontrole, sny, brand en herbisied toediening) op plantspesie vestiging en samestelling te bestudeer asook om bestuurmetodes te toets was deur boere op groot skaal gebruik kan word om Renosterveld te herstel. In ‘n vergelyking van verskillende bestuur metodes (kontrole, besnoeiing, brand en herbisied) om eenjarige uitheemse gras te beheer, is gewys dat die behandlings nie betekenisvol van mekaar verskil in hulle effek op spesierykheid nie. Vuur het struikbedekking verminder en totale spesies rykheid en diversitiet verhoog. Die gebruik van ‘n herbisied het die probleem van grasindringing opgelos en het ook struikspesiesrykheid verhoog. Die herbisied het nie lang termyn negatiewe effekte op grond kwaliteit gehad nie. Sny het nie gras biomassa verlaag op die ou land nie. Eksperimentele plant van inheemse grasse en struike in die behandelde areas, het lae vestiging tot gevolg gehad. My algemene afleiding is dus dat gras die hervestinging en groei van baie inheemse struikspesies verminder. Ek stel voor dat herbisied gebruik moet word om gras kompetisie te verminder. Nadat herbisied residue in die grond afgebreek is, moet die ou land met inheemse struik en grasspesies, wat in vroeë suksessie stadiums is, beplant word om sodoende totale spesiediversiteit te verhoog en uiteindelik ou bewerkte lande in Weskus Renosterveld te herstel.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/16390
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