The influence of the monocarpic herb, Isoglossa woodii, on subtropical forest tree dynamics and diversity.
Dominant understorey species, such as herbs, ferns, palms and shrubs may influence forest tree species diversity and dynamics. Their influence may be through shading the forest floor, thereby affecting regeneration of shade-intolerant species and reducing species diversity, or it may be through competition with seedlings for space and belowground resources, thus modifying or changing the structure of the forest. These effects may be compounded if the life cycle of the understorey species consists of synchronized reproductive and mortality events. This study examines the influence of a dominant understorey species, Isoglossa woodii (Acanthaceae), on regeneration of trees in Indian Ocean subtropical coastal dune forest in southern Africa. The species is a semiwoody herb and has population-wide synchronous reproduction at 4-7 year cycles after which it dies and regenerates from seed. In this thesis I examine three aspects of the ecology of this suppressive herb: (i) the ecological and environmental correlates of the distribution of I. woodii; (ii) the evolutionary advantages of synchronous monocarpy; and (iii) the ecological effects of the extensive cover and putative recruitment window caused by I. woodii on forest tree seedling dynamics and diversity. Isoglossa woodii covered 65–95 % of the understorey, while gaps in this understorey cover occupied the remaining 5–35 % of the area. The spatial distribution of I. woodii was strongly related to tree canopy structure, with the species excluded from sites with dense canopy cover. Woody seedling establishment was inhibited by low light availability (