Soil nitrogen and phosphorus depletion as a means of restoring degraded lowland fynbos ecosystems invaded by alien grasses

Ruwanza, Sheunesu (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2009-03)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Much of South African lowland fynbos vegetation has been transformed by agriculture and invasive alien grass species. The artificial reduction of plant available N and P levels in soils, through the addition of carbon and calcium respectively, may provide a means of retarding the growth of alien grasses stimulated by soil nutrient enrichment. Furthermore, the competitive advantage of native lowland fynbos species adapted to nutrient impoverished soils may be increased by these additions. The above premise was tested in both field- and greenhouse-based trials by applying systemic and contact herbicides to reduce the large alien invasive grass biomass. This was followed by the addition of C as sucrose and Ca as gypsum to reduce plant available N and P respectively in the soils. The effects of these combined herbicide and soil nutrient amendment treatments on plant physiology and growth were examined in both resident alien and indigenous species and in several herbaceous and woody native species introduced as seeds and seedlings. Also, soils sampled from the different treatments in both trials were chemically analyzed. There was a total absence of seedling recruitment from seeds of all 9 indigenous species sown into soils in the field-based trial while introduced juveniles of another 9 indigenous species displayed a high mortality during the dry summer season. These detrimental effects were less severe in the greenhouse-based trial which received more regular watering and where successful seedling recruitment from seeds sown occurred in four indigenous species. Sucrose additions, both exclusively and in combination with gypsum, caused significant reductions in foliar chlorophyll, photosystem II (PSII) function and above-ground biomass of most resident and introduced alien and indigenous species. These reductions were less prominent where herbicides were applied, a possible consequence of N and P supplementation of soils by the decomposing plant biomass. This was supported by the elevated soil K, Na and N concentrations measured in soils where contact and systemic herbicides were applied. However, no significant changes in soil N or P were apparent following sucrose and gypsum additions respectively, the latter attributed to the acidic soils which precluded the formation of insoluble P complexes. A second study tested the hypothesis that exogenous sucrose addition to soils inhibits plant growth by stimulating soil microbial biomass which accumulates soil nitrogen rendering it unavailable to plants. Two native, early seral species (Dimorphotheca pluvialus (L.) Moench and Ursinia anthemoides (L) Poir. subsp anthemoides) were cultured in heat sterilized (2200C for 72 hours) and non-sterilized soils in a greenhouse under four different levels of sucrose (0, 100, 200 and 300 g m-2) supplied monthly over a four-month active growing period. Foliar chlorophyll iii contents, photosystem II (PSII) efficiencies, shoot and root lengths and dry mass, inflorescence numbers and N and P contents were measured in the plants, and N and P contents and bacterial cell and coliform numbers analyzed in the soils. Both D. pluvialis and U. anthemoides displayed significant reductions in PSII efficiency, chlorophyll content, accumulation of biomass and N and P in response increased levels of sucrose, which initially seemingly supported the hypothesis as these reductions were of substantially greater magnitude in plants cultivated in non-sterilized than sterilized soils. Despite this, there was no evidence of any significant increases in bacterial and coliform cell numbers in response to increased levels of sucrose supplied or any significant reductions in soil N and P contents following sucrose additions in both sterile and non-sterilized soils. Greater numbers of bacteria and coliforms were measured in sterilized than non-sterilized soils which corresponded with reduced soil N contents but these were not reflected in like changes in plant PSII efficiency and growth and total amounts of N taken up by plants which displayed massive increases in sterilized soils. The findings did not support the hypothesis and pointed to an abiotic mechanism of sucrose inhibition of plant photosynthesis and growth. The study concludes that the suitability of adding sucrose and gypsum to degraded renosterveld ecosystem soils to promote the competitiveness of native taxa against alien grasses is dubious. Other restoration alternatives such as natural re-colonization, transfer of soils containing viable seeds from pristine communities and top soil removal should be considered.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Baie van Suid Afrika se laagland fynbos plantegroei is verander deur landbou en uitheemse indringer grasspesies. Die kunsmatige reduksie van plantbeskikbare N en P vlakke in die grond deur die toevoeging van koolstof en kalsium onderskeidelik, kan ’n metode wees om die groei van indringer grasse te vertraag, wat gestimuleer word deur grondvoedingstofverryking. Die kompeterende voordeel van die inheemse laagland fynbosspesies wat aangepas is tot voedingstofarme grond kan verhoog word deur die toevoegings. Bogenoemde postulaat is in beide die veld- en die glashuis-gebaseerde eksperimente getoets deur die aanwending van sistemiese en kontak onkruiddoder om die groot indringer grasbiomassa te verminder gevolg deur die byvoeging van C as sukrose en Ca as gips om die plantbeskibare N en P onderskeidelik te verminder in die grond. Die effekte van die gekombineerde onkruiddoder en grondvoedingstof verbeteringsbehandelings op die fisiologie en groei van die plante is ondersoek in beide inheemse- en residente indringerspesies asook in verskeie kruidagtige- en houtagtige inheemse spesies wat aangeplant was as sade en saailinge. Grondmonsters van die verskillende behandelings in beide studies was versamel en was chemies geanaliseer. Daar was ’n definitiewe afwesigheid van nuwe saailinge van sade van al nege indringerspesies wat gesaai was in grond in die veldgebaseerde studie, en saailinge van nog nege inheemse spesies het ’n hoë mortaliteit getoon gedurende die droë somerseisoen. Hierdie skadelike effekte was minder ernstig in die glashuisgebaseerde studie wat meer benat was, en waar nuwe saailinge suksesvol geproduseer was deur sade in vier inheemse spesies. Sukrose byvoegings, beide uitgesluit en in kombinasie met gips, het ’n afname in blaarchlorofil, fotosisteem II en bogrondse biomassa van die meeste van die residente en aangeplante indringer- en inheemse spesies getoon. Hierdie afnames was minder prominent waar onkruiddoder aangewend was, ’n moontlke oorsaak van N en P aanvulling van grond deur die verrottende plantbiomassa. Dit word ondersteun deur verghoogde grond K, Na en N konsentrasies, gemeet in grond waar kontak en sistemiese onkruiddoder toegevoeg was. Geen noemenswaardige veranderinge in grond N of P was sigbaar na byvoeging van sukrose en gips onderskeidelik nie. Laasgenoemde het bygedra tot suuragtige grond wat die formasie van onoplosbare P komplekse verkom het. ‘n Tweede studie het die hipotese getoets waar eksogene sukrose byvoeging tot grond plantegroei inhibeer deur die grond mikrobe biomassa te stimuleer wat akkumuleer wat in grond stikstof en dit nie beskikbaar maak vir plante nie.Twee inheemse vroeë intermediêre stadium spesies (Dimorphotheca pluvialus (L.) Moench en Ursinia anthemoides (L) Poir. subsp v anthemoides) was gekweek in hitte gesteriliseerde grond (2200 C vir 72 uur) en in nie-gesteriliseerde grond in ’n glashuis onder vier verskillende vlakke van van sukrose (0, 100, 200 en 300 g m-2) bygevoeg maandeliks oor ‘n 4 maande aktiewe groei periode. Blaarchlorofilinhoud, fotosisteem II (FS II) doeltreffendheid, groeipunt en wortel lengte en droë massa, blomgetalle en N en P inhoud was gemeet in die plante sowel as N en P inhoud en bakteriële sel en kolivorm getalle was geanaliseer in die grond. Beide D. pluvialis en U . anthemoides het ’n afname getoon in FS II doeltreffendheid, chlorofilinhoud, biomassa akkumulasie, N en P response op verhoogde vlakke van sukrose, wat aanvanklik aangetoon het dat dit die hipotese ondersteun want hierdie afnames wat heelwat groter in plante wat gekweek was in ongesteriliseerde grond as in gesteriliseerde grond. Daar was geen toename in baketriële en kolivorm sel getalle in rssponse tot verhoogde vlakke van sukrose byvoegings of enige noemenswaardige in grond N en P inhoud na byvoeging van sukrose in beide steriele en nie-steriele grond nie. Groot getalle bakterieë en kolivorme was gemeet in gesteriliseerde grond as in ongesteriliseerde grond. Dit korrespondeer met verminderde grond N inhoud maar dit was nie gereflekteer in veranderinge in plant FS II doeltreffendheid, groei en die totale hoeveelhede N wat opgeneem was deur plante wat ’n massiewe toename getoon het ongesteriliseerde grond nie. Hierdie bevindings het nie die hipotese ondersteun nie en het gewys na ’n abiotiese meganisme van sukrose inhibisie van plant fotosintese en groei. Die studie lei dus af dat die geskiktheid om sukrose en gips by te voeg tot gedegradeerde renosterveld ekosisteemgrond om kompetisie tussen inheemse plante en indringer grasse te promoveer, twyfelagtig is. Ander restorasie alternatiewe soos natuurlike herkolonisasie, oordrag van grond wat lewensvatbare sade bevat van onbeskadigde gemeenskappe en bogrond verwydering word oorweeg.

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