Dispersal of seeds as a constraint in revegetation of old fields in Renosterveld vegetation in the Western Cape, South Africa

Shiponeni, Ndafuda Nangula (2003-03)

Thesis (MScFor )--Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Species-rich Renosterveld vegetation does not return to old agricultural fields even after many years (10-20) of abandonment. In most cases the fields are slowly taken over by non-indigenous species, particularly alien pasture grasses and African lawn grass. While poor survival of indigenous seedlings due to competition, grazing or any other establishment constraints, might explain the failure of natural vegetation to colonise old fields, here I am testing the hypothesis that recolonisation by indigenous plant species is limited by seed dispersal. I have quantified changes in seed density with distance from the natural vegetation into old fields using seed traps and soil seed bank assessment. I have also looked at seed dispersal in the dung of large herbivores. Shrubs (with the exception of Eytropappus rhinocerotis) were poorly represented in the seed rain indicating that they might be seed limited. Dicerothamnus rinocerotis (a dominant shrub in Renosterveld) and certain geophytes (that were recovered in the soil bank) have proven that seed dispersal is not the primary constraint to their return to ploughed fields. Dicerothamnus rinocerotis produces a large number of seeds that are dispersed long distances into the old field and a number of geophytes were well represented in the soil bank. Large herbivores are dispersing a lot of herbaceous forbs in their dung but make very little contribution to the dispersal of indigenous tussock grass and shrubs. Seeds of indigenous Renosterveld tussock grasses (e.g Tribolium hispidum) were restricted to the edge of the natural vegetation. My research has shown that some indigenous seeds, particularly those dispersed in wind and through large mammals, do reach the old ploughed field. I therefore conclude that seed dispersal is not the primary constraint to the natural recovery of populations of some indigenous plant species on old fields, but may limit recovery of certain indigenous geophytes, grasses and shrubs.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Spesie-ryke Renosterveld plantegroei hervestig nie op ou landerye nie, selfs ná baie jare (l0-20) van verlating. Oor die algemeen word hierdie grond stadig oorgeneem deur uitheemse spesies, veral uitheemse weidingsgrasse en kweekgras. Terwyl swak oorlewing van inheemse saailinge as gevolg van kompetisie, weiding of enige ander vestigingsbeperkinge, die mislukte vestiging van natuurlike plantegroei op ou benutte grond kan verduidelik, toets ek hier die hipotese dat hervestiging deur inheemse plantspesies deur saadverspreiding beperk word. Ek het veranderinge in saaddigtheid oor afstand vanaf die natuurlike plantegroei na ou landerye gekwantifiseer, deur gebruik te maak van saadopvangsvalle en sand saadbank beraminge. Ek het ook gekyk na saadverspreiding in die mis van groot herbivore. Struike (behalwe Eytropappus rhinocerotis) was swak verteenwoordig in die "saadreën", wat mag toon dat struike saadbeperk is. Eytropappus rhinocerotis ('n dominante struik in Renosterveld) en sekere geofiete (wat in die saadbank gevind is) het bewys dat saadverspreiding nie die hoofbeperking is vir hulle terugkeer na geploegde lande nie. Eytropappus rhinocerotis produseer 'n groot hoeveelheid saad wat oor groot afstande oor die ou landerye versprei word en 'n aantal geofiete was goed verteenwoordig in die saadbank. Groot herbivore versprei 'n groot hoeveelheid kruidagtige forbe in hulle mis, maar maak 'n baie klein bydrae tot die verspreiding van inheemse polgras en struike. Saad van inheemse Renosterveld polgrasse (bv. Tribolium hispidum) was beperk tot die some van die natuurlike plantegroei. My navorsing het getoon dat sommige inheemse saad, veral dié wat deur die wind en deur groot herbivore versprei word, wel die ou geploegde landerye bereik. Ek maak dus die gevolgtrekking dat saadverspreiding nie die hoofbeperking is vir die natuurlike herstel van populasies van sommige inheemse plantspesies op ou landerye nie, maar mag die herstel van sekere inheemse geofiete, grasse en struike beperk.

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