The impact of pine plantations on fynbos above-ground vegetation and soil seed bank composition
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Pine plantations and pine invasions have numerous impacts on native ecosystems in the Fynbos biome of South Africa. The severity of these impacts greatly determines the extent of potential ecosystem recovery after the pines are felled. The recovery potential of fynbos after felling of pine plantations of varying longevity and the subsequent application of ecological burns was investigated in the Helderberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape Province, South Africa. Above-ground vegetation, soil seed bank and abiotic variables were sampled across three treatments (reference fynbos and sites that had been under pines for 30 and 50 years respectively) using 1 m2 quadrats placed along 50 m line transects. The soil seed bank samples were smoke treated and then monitored in a greenhouse to determine the soil seed bank species and growth form composition. Areas previously under 30 year old pine plantations had high native species and growth form density (number of species/growth forms per unit area) and similar plant density (number of individuals per unit area) to the reference fynbos areas. Conversely, areas previously under 50 year old pine plantations had significantly lower native species and growth form density and plant density than the reference fynbos andwere dominated by alien species. In addition, areas previously under 50 year old pine plantations had lower species diversity than the reference fynbos areas and areas previously under 30 year old pine plantations which were found to be similar to one another. Felled pine plantations were shown to minimally impact on soil abiotic variables, with only soil temperature and pH showing significant differences. Therefore, areas previously under 30 year old pine plantations have higher recovery potential following pine removal than 50 year old plantations, owing to the depleted native soil seed bank in the latter. Consequently, active restoration may be needed to re-introduce the missing long-lived growth forms and to prevent soil erosion. Pine plantation and invasion management in the Fynbos biome should aim to fell pines before the native seed bank is depleted to maintain the recovery potential of fynbos and prevent the need for active restoration.