Alien grass invasion of Renosterveld: Influence of soil variable gradients
Muhl, Sara Ann
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This thesis examines the role of agricultural activity in the process of invasion of west coast renosterveld fragments by annual alien grass species. This highly endangered vegetation type has less than 5% remaining, it is vital to understand the mechanisms allowing invasion of annual alien grasses in order to effectively prevent the loss of the many rare and endemic species found in west coast renosterveld. This study was divided into three major components. Firstly the distribution of indigenous and alien plant species in relation to fence lines, separating active agricultural fields from untransformed vegetation, was described. Regression analysis was used to test for relationships between distances from agricultural fields and soil physical and chemical characteristics in natural vegetation. Cover by annual alien invasive grasses in untransformed vegetation decreased significantly with distance away from agricultural land. Secondly alien and indigenous grass seed banks were sampled along the transects, at the same sites, in order to establish whether the seed banks correlated with above ground cover. Results varied among sites and seed banks were correlated with the vegetation cover at only one site. It appears that there are a multitude of factors determining the distribution of annual alien grass cover. Thirdly a greenhouse experiment established the role that nitrogen plays in the success of the alien grass Avena fatua. This species was grown in competition with three indigenous species, an annual forb (Dimorphotheca pluvialis), a geophyte (Oxalis purpurea) and an indigenous perennial grass (Tribolium uniolae) at three levels of soil nitrogen. The geophyte was largely unaffected, while growth of the annual and indigenous perennial grasses was negatively affected by competition with A. fatua. Nitrogen did not seem to affect competitive interactions. Management of these renosterveld patches, in order to conserve them effectively, will require a multi-faceted approach, including prevention of further invasion and removal of invasive grasses already present.