Alien tree invasion into a South African montane grassland ecosystem: impact of Acacia species on rangeland condition and livestock carrying capacity
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The degree to which invasive Acacia species affect South Africa’s livestock production has received little attention. We investigated the ecological impacts of Acacia mearnsii invasion on forage quality and quantity and on soil resources, along A. mearnsii invasion gradients, on South African rangelands and the subsequent conditions following clearing. Grazing capacity was reduced by 72% in densely invaded sites, whereas clearing improved grazing capacity by 66% relative to densely invaded sites within 5 years. In densely invaded sites total grass species basal cover was reduced by up to 42%. As a result, A. mearnsii reduced grazing capacity, from 2 to 8 ha required to support one large stock unit (ha/LSU) in uninvaded and densely invaded sites, respectively. Soil moisture content was lower in densely invaded sites compared with lightly invaded and cleared sites. Plant litter increased from 1.3% to 4.2%, carbon content of the soil increased from 2.0% to 4.0% and nitrogen concentrations increased from 0.1% to 0.2% in response to invasion by A. mearnsii. Clearing resulted in improved grazing capacity within 5 years. These results also showed that, if left uncontrolled, wattle species can reduce livestock carrying capacity within montane grasslands in South Africa.
- RESEARCH: Esler K