Soil type, microsite, and herbivory influence growth and survival of Schinus molle (Peruvian pepper tree) invading semi-arid African savanna
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Naturalization of Schinus molle (Anacardiaceae) has been observed in semi arid savanna of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. However, with high dispersal ability, the species is expected to achieve greater densities and invade more widely. The study involved a field manipulation experiment over 14 months using a factorial block design to examine transplanted seedlings in different savanna environments. The experiments examine the effects of soil type (sandy and clay), microsite, and herbivores on seedling performance (establishment, growth and survival). Seedlings were grown in a greenhouse and individually transplanted into four treatment groups: in open grassland, under tree canopies, and with and without cages to exclude large herbivores (cattle and game). The same experiment was repeated in two different soil types: coarse sand and fine-textured clay soil. Results suggest that protection provided by canopies of large indigenous Acacia trees facilitates S. molle invasion into semiarid savanna. In the field, S. molle seedlings performed considerably better beneath canopies of indigenous Acacia trees than in open areas regardless of soil type. Whether exposed or protected from large herbivores, no seedlings planted in open grassland survived the first winter. Although, seedlings grew better and had higher survival rates beneath tree canopies than in the open sites, exposure to large herbivores significantly decreased heights and canopy areas of seedlings compared with those protected from large herbivores. The effect was greater on clay soil than on sandy soil. The results suggest that low temperature (frost), and possibly inter-specific competition with grasses, may limit S. molle seedling establishment, survival and growth away from tree canopies in semi arid savannas. Low soil nutrient status and browsing may also delay growth and development of this species. The invasive potential of S. molle is thus greatest on fertile soils where subcanopy microsites are present and browsing mammals are absent.