Monitoring serial changes in coastal grasslands invaded by Chromolaena odorata (L.) R.M. King and Robinson.
Goodall, Jeremy Marshall.
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The objective of this study was to describe the impacts of the density of Chromolaena odorata (chromolaena) on species composition in coastal grasslands and to investigate serial changes in the vegetation following the implementation of a burning programme. The thesis deals with key ecological concepts and issues, so a comprehensive literature review is included. Chromolaena invades coastal grasslands that are not burnt regularly (i.e. biennially). Grasslands that were not burnt for 30 years were seral to secondary forest. The successional pathway from open grassland to closed canopy forest varied according to soil type. Coastal grasslands on Glenrosa soils were characterised by savanna at an intermediate stage between the grassland and forest states. Shading ended the persistence of savanna species (e.g. Combretum molle, Dichrostachys cinerea and Heteropyxis natalensis) in forest, whereas forest precursors (e.g. Canthium inerme, Maytenus undata and Protorhus longifolia) only established where fire was absent. Chromolaena infestations were characterised by multi-stemmed adult plants of variable height (i.e. 1-3 m), depending on soil type. Regic sands did not support stratified woody vegetation and chromolaena infestations were self-supporting, reaching a maximum height of 1.5 m. Glenrosa soils supported tree communities and chromolaena reached more than 3 m in places. The density of chromolaena affected species composition in grasslands with moderate to dense stands (> 5 adult plants m ¯² or >50000 shrubs ha ¯¹). Chromolaena stands became monospecific when the number of adult plants exceeded 7 m ¯². Succession to forest also ceased once chromolaena became thicket-forming. Fire-induced mortality of the chromolaena depended on grass fuel loads. Grass cover of 30% (c. 1 000 kg ha ¯¹) was required to achieve 80% mortality of the parent infestation after the initial burn. Dense infestations could only be killed by running head-fires from adjacent grasslands into thickets. Under conditions where head-fires could not be used, infestations were slashed and burnt at the height of the dry season (July to August) to achieve an 80% kill rate. Seedlings were killed (99%) by annual burning in sparse (≤ 10000 shrubs ha ¯¹) to moderate < 50 000 shrubs ha ¯¹) infestations. The suppression of chromolaena and other alien species, establishing on bare ground after clearing dense infestations, required chemical control until grass cover was sufficient (i.e. 1 000 kg ha ¯¹) to effect uniform burning. Certain secondary alien invaders (e.g. Lantana camara, Psidium guajava and Solanum mauritianum) persisted by coppicing profusely after fire and herbicides need to be integrated into burning programmes when these species occur. Grasslands on regic sands (e.g. Ischaemum fasciculatum, Panicum dregeanum and Themeda triandra) were more resilient to the modifying effects of woody vegetation, than grasslands on Glenrosa soils. Grasslands on Glenrosa soils did not revert to an open state but persisted as ruderal savanna grassland (e.g. Eragrostis curvula, Hyparrhenia tamba and Cymbopogon validus) once fire-resistant tree species (e.g. Combretum molle and Heteropyxis natalensis) had established. Depending the objectives for land management and the vegetation's condition, coastal grasslands can be rehabilitated and managed in multiple states, i.e. grassland, savanna or forest communities. A state-and-transition model based on the empirical data recorded in the study is presented and shows chromolaena altering vegetation states from open grassland to chromolaena dominated thicket. The model illustrates chromolaena thickets as the dominant phase of a moist coastal forest/savanna succession, irrespective of soil type, in absence of appropriate land management practices (e.g. control burning and integrated control of alien vegetation). This model should aid in planning strategies for the control of chromolaena in subtropical grasslands in South Africa.