The effectiveness of active and passive restoration on recovery of indigenous vegetation in riparian zones in the Western Cape, South Africa: A preliminary assessment
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Riparian ecosystems in South Africa's fynbos biome are heavily invaded by alien woody plants. Although largescale clearing of these species is underway, the assumption that native vegetation will self-repair after clearing has not been thoroughly tested. Understanding the processes that mediate the recruitment of native species following clearing of invasive species is crucial for optimising restoration techniques. This study aimed to determine native species recovery patterns following implementation of different management interventions. We tested the influence of two clearing treatments (“fell & remove” and “fell & stack burn”) on the outcomes of passive restoration (natural recovery of native riparian species) and active restoration (seed sowing and planting of cuttings) along the Berg River in the Western Cape. Under greenhouse conditions we investigated seed viability and germination pre-treatments of selected native species. There was no recruitment of native species in sites that were not seeded (passive restoration sites), possibly because of the dominance of alien herbaceous species and graminoids or the lack of native species in the soil-stored seed bank. Germination of our targeted native species in the field was low in both “fell & remove” and “fell & stack burn” treatments. However, “fell & stack burn” gave better germination for the species Searsia angustifolia, Leonotis leonurus and Melianthus major. Seedling survival in the field was significantly reduced in summer, with drought stress being the main cause for seedling mortality. Germination rates in the greenhouse were high, an indication that harvested seeds were viable. Most seeds germinated without germination pre-treatments. We conclude that failure of native seeds to germinate under field conditions, secondary invasion of alien herbs and graminoids, the lack of native species in the soil-stored seed bank, and dry summer conditions hamper seedling establishment and recovery on sites cleared of dense stands of alien trees. For active restoration to achieve its goals, effective recruitment and propagation strategies need to be established.