Fynbos riparian biogeochemistry and invasive Australian acacias

Naude, Minette (2012-03)

Thesis (MScConEcol)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Riparian ecotones, transitional areas between upland terrestrial communities and aquatic ecosystems, are very dynamic and complex ecosystems with intrinsic ecological properties differing in spatial structure, function and temporal dynamics. Riparian habitats along rivers of the Mediterranean south-western Cape are sensitive to environmental change and particularly vulnerable to invasion by invasive alien plants (IAPs), especially nitrogen-fixing Acacia spp., and yet relatively little work has focused on how riparian ecosystems in this region respond to such stressors. The important roles that intact riparian vegetation play in maintaining ecosystem integrity and services have been increasingly highlighted as we acknowledge the degradation of these habitats. While the Working for Water (WfW) programme has been shown to be very successful in eradicating IAPs in riparian zones in the short-term, the extent to which riparian ecosystems recover following alien clearing activities remains poorly understood. The results presented in this study addressed several different aspects of riparian structure and function and acts as a steppingstone for guiding future research and management in riparian zones by adding to the evaluation of the success of clearing initiatives and restoration thereof. The aim of this study was to assess plant functional type (PFT) cover, soil physical and chemical properties, and selected biogeochemical processes in natural, Acacia- invaded and cleared riparian ecotones and associated non-riparian upland fynbos. Fieldwork was performed in mountain and foothill sections of six perennial river systems within the south-western Cape. Eleven sites of three categories were chosen: four natural sites (uninvaded); four moderate to highly invaded sites (predominantly A. mearnsii); and three cleared sites (a formerly invaded site that had been cleared more than 7 years prior to the study). Within each site, four to five replicate plots were established along each of three geomorphological zones (wet bank, dry bank, and upland fynbos). Seasonal soil samples were collected for a period of one year. Results from this study showed that PFT cover and composition, soil physical and chemical properties and rates of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) mineralization differed amongst invasion status, between geomorphological zones and across seasons. Regarding most soil physical and chemical properties and indices N and P cycling, river floodplains (dry banks) were very similar to terrestrial uplands. Acacia spp. changes soil properties and affects plant functional attributes by i) enriching the system with N; ii) enhancing litter inputs; iii) altering soil physical properties; iv) changing the composition and reducing the cover of PFT; and v) enhancing P mineralization rates. Although measured soil physical and chemical properties and N and P mineralization rates were reduced to levels that were similar to or resembled the situation at natural areas, available inorganic N remained two times higher after more than seven years of clearance. Furthermore, cleared areas were characterized by sparse woody cover and a high cover of alien grasses. Correlations between soil silt and clay content and several soil properties measured in this and other studies indicates important linkages between soil texture and resource availability. Clearing Acacia spp. may initiate restoration of invaded riparian ecosystems, but changes in ecosystem function (e.g. elevated soil N availability) as a result of invasion may necessitate active restoration following the removal of the alien species. Active restoration under such conditions would be required to facilitate the restoration of cleared riparian communities. However, we still lack the mechanistic understanding around fynbos riparian recovery after clearing, as the success of restoration may depend on complex interaction and feedback cycles between plants and their physical environment. A greater comprehensive understanding of fynbos riparian ecological processes will not only improve the effectiveness of restoration initiatives by integrating science and management, but also advance the field of riparian ecology.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Rivier oewerwal-areas, oorgang gebiede tussen aangrensende terrestriële gemeenskappe en akwatiese ekosisteme, is baie dinamiese en komplekse ekosisteme met intrinsieke ekologiese eienskappe wat verskil in struktuur, funksie (bv. biogeochemie siklusse) en temporale dinamika. Oewerhabitatte langs riviere van die Mediterreense suid-wes Kaap is sensitief vir omgewingsveranderinge en kwesbaar vir indringing deur uitheemse plante (bekend as “invasive alien plants” (IAPs)), veral stikstof-fiksering Acacia spp., en relatief min werk het nog gefokus op hoe ekosisteme in die streek reageer op sulke veranderinge in die omgewing. Die belangrike rol wat gesonde oewerwal plantegroei speel in die handhawing van ekosisteemdienste- en integriteit, is al hoe meer uitgelig soos ons die agteruitgang van hierdie habitat in ag neem. Terwyl die Werk vir Water (WvW)-program al dat baie suksesvol was in die uitwissing van IAPs in oewersones in die kort termyn, is die mate waarin oewer-ekostelsels herstel na skoonmaakaksies swak verstaan. Fynbos oewerwal-areas is grootliks ingeneem deur houtagtige IAPs, veral stikstof fiksering Acacia spp. (soos Acacia mearnsii). Die resultate wat in hierdie studie aangebied is, het verskillende aspekte van oewer- struktuur en funksie aangespreek en dien as middel vir toekomstige navorsing en bestuur van oewerwal ekosisteme deur by te dra tot die evaluering van die sukses van skoonmaak inisiatiewe en die herstelproses daarvan. Die doel van hierdie projek was om die moontlikhede vir herstel van fynbos owerwal-ekostelsels te evalueer deur middel van verskeie grond- fisiese en chemiese eienskappe; plant funksionele groep dekking (genoem ‘plant functional types’ (PFT)); en geselekteerde grond biogeochemie prosesse in natuurlike, Acacia- aangetaste, en skoongemaakte rivierstelsels en nabygeleë terrestriese areas te vergelyk. Veldwerk is gedoen in bergstroom en voetheuwel rivierseksies van ses standhoudende rivierstelsels in Suid-wes Kaap, Suid Afrika. Van uit hierdie geselekteerde rivierstelsels is elf studie areas van drie kategorieë (of indringing status) gekies: vier natuurlike areas (nie aangetas); vier gematig- tot hoogs aangetaste areas (hoofsaaklik A. meanrsii); en drie skoongemaakte areas (rivieroewers wat meer as sewe jaar van te vore skoongemaak is). Binne elke studie area was vier tot vyf soortgelyke persele gevestig by elke van drie breë geomorfologiese sones: naamlik nat-, droë en hoogliggende terrestriese fynbos. Seisoenale grondmonsters vir 'n tydperk van een jaar is geneem. Resultate van hierdie studie het getoon dat PFT dekking en samestelling, grond fisiese- en chemiese eienskappe en N-mineralisasie en suur fosfatase aktiwiteit verskil tussen indringing status, geomorfologiese sones en oor seisoene. Ten opsigte van meeste grond fisiese en chemiese eienskappe en indekse van stikstof (N) en fosfor (P) siklusse kom die rivier vogregimes (droë oewersones) baie ooreen met die terrestriële gebiede. Aan die anderkant is die natbanksones gekenmerk deur grondeienskappe wat baie verskil van die ander twee geomorfologiese gebiede. Die gegewens ondersteun die hipotese dat indringing deur Acacia spp. verskeie grondeienskappe verander en plante se funksionele kenmerke beïnvloed deur i) die sisteem met voedingstowwe te verryk (veral N); ii) verhoog die toevoeging van plantmateriaal; iii) verander grond fisiese eienskappe; iv) verander die samestelling en verminder die dekking van PFT; v) en verhoog P biogeochemie. Hoewel grond fisiese -en chemiese eienskappe, en indekse van N en P mineralisasie verminder is tot vlakke wat soortgelyk aan natuurlike areas, het beskikbare anorganiese N twee keer hoër gebly by skoongemaakte gebiede. Nietemin, voorheen skoongemaakte gebiede is weer-binnegeval deur eksotiese grasse en die regenerasie of hertelling van inheemse fynbos gemeenskappe is taamlik beperk, veral houtagtige oewer struike en bome. Korrelasies tussen grond slik-en klei-inhoud en verskeie grondeienskappe gemeet in hierdie en ander studies dui op belangrike skakeling tussen die grondtekstuur en voedingstof beskikbaarheid. Die opruiming van Acacia spp. mag as aansporing dien vir die herstellingsproses van rivieroewerstelsels, maar veranderinge in die funksie van ekosisteme (bv. verhoogte grond N beskikbaarheid), as gevolg van indringing, mag aktiewe herstel noodsaak nadat die indringer spesies verwyder is. Aktiewe herstel onder sulke omstandighede sal verwag word om die herstel van skoongemaak oewer gemeenskappe te fasiliteer. Ons het wel egter nog 'n gebrek aan die meganistiese begrip in verband met die herstel van fynbos oewerwal areas na opruimings-inisiatiewe, sedert die sukses van herstel kan afhang van komplekse interaksie en terugvoer siklusse tussen die plante en hul fisiese omgewing. ʼn Meer omvattende begrip van fynbos rivieroewer ekologiese prosesse sal nie net die doeltreffendheid van opruimings-inisiatiewe deur die integrasie van wetenskaplike navorsing en bestuur verbeter nie, maar ook vooraf die gebied van rivieroewer-ekologie.

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