Old field restoration : vegetation response to soil changes and restoration efforts in Western Cape Lowlands
Thesis (MScConsEcol (Conservation Ecology and Entomology))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.
In the Mediterranean climate regions of the world, agricultural practices have caused considerable landscape transformation and lead to introduction of alien species that now dominate secondary succession on abandoned agricultural fields. Various restoration attempts have been made to reduce alien plant species cover, and to enhance the re-establishment and cover of native plant species. However, results and successes were mostly short-term due to re-growth and persistence of the weedy alien species, which has been suggested to be caused by land use history, especially the nutrient enrichment of soil, and particularly phosphorus and nitrogen. This study investigated different soil properties (pH, electrical conductivity (EC), soil moisture, as well as available phosphorus (P) and total nitrogen (N)) on 10 and 20 year old abandoned fields, as a function of depth in three habitats (ridge (old cultivated area), ditch (old drainage line) and slope (intermediate zone between ridge and ditch)) on the old fields. The relationship between these soil properties and the vegetation occurring on the two old fields was established. At the same time, restoration treatments (autumn burn, combination of autumn burn and herbicide, herbicide application alone, as well as spring burn) were conducted to reduce the cover and abundance of non-native plant species and Cynodon dactylon, and to enhance cover of native species. Results from the study show that levels of all investigated soil properties were higher on the younger field. The highest difference was observed in EC and pH. Seasonal differences in both soil properties could also be observed. A principal component analysis indicated that the dynamic of all soil properties shaped the vegetation type on old fields, with the main soil properties being dependent on land-use history and time since abandonment. This study suggests that EC and pH could be part of parameters that drive the persistence of undesirable species persistence on old fields and inhibit native plant species instead.