The effects of fire and harvesting on Restionaceae SPP. (Thamnochortus insignis and T. erectus) with different life histories : a matrix modelling approach

Campbell, Tessa Angela (2006-12)

Thesis (MSc (Conservation Ecology and Entomology)--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.


The Restionaceae is a dominant family in the Fynbos Biome, an area in which fire plays a role as an important disturbance, yet little is known about their population dynamics. Two species of the Restionaceae (Thamnochortus insignis and T. erectus) are economically important as thatching reed and differ in their life-histories. This study aims to determine the effects of variation in life history (sprouter vs. non-sprouter) on the population structure and dynamics of T. erectus (“wyfies riet”, sprouter) and T. insignis (“mannetjies riet”), a non-sprouting species. A matrix-modelling approach based on field data collected by Ball (1995) is used to determine population growth rates, stable stage distributions and stage sensitivity and elasticity for the two species with no disturbance present. The sprouter (T. erectus) shows a positive population growth rate (λ >1) and greater persistence within all stages. The non-sprouting species (T. insignis) shows a negative population growth rate (λ <1) between disturbances as well as greater seed production, germination and growth between stages. Based on the population dynamics of these two species, further research was done to understand the effect of disturbance (harvesting and fire) on these species. A matrix modelling approach was used to determine which disturbance frequency maximises population output and success. Harvesting as well as fire results in a decline in T. insignis populations. A five year frequency for harvesting results in the greatest output of adult plants with the lowest effect on the population, and a fire frequency of 50 to 65 years is recommended. Testing indicates that the model underestimates the number of adults in the population and thus the model is conservative. T. erectus populations grow despite fire or harvesting; thus any reasonable harvesting (3-5 year frequency) and fire (10+ years between fire) regime would ensure population persistence. As data were limited it was not possible to test the results although T. erectus appears resilient to disturbance and therefore a predetermined regime is not as important as in T. insignis. Recommendations to farmers are made based on these results.

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