Regeneration failure and the Acacia karroo successional pathway in coastal dune forests in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Monospecific stands of Acacia karroo establish naturally on disturbed coastal dunes in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. While the A. karroo successional pathway is successful in rehabilitating mined dunes at the Richards Bay Minerals mining company (RBM), the same pathway has become arrested in the coastal dune forest at Cape Vidal in the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. This study examines the efficacy of the A. karroo successional pathway for restoring disturbed coastal dune forests. Dispersal of seeds and successful recruitment of seedlings are essential for habitat restoration. Seed and seedling banks were compared between previously disturbed A. karroo stands and adjacent forest at Cape Vidal. Different seed bank composition and higher seed bank richness in the forest suggest that seed dispersal into A. karroo stands is limited. Protected seed banks in A. karroo stands had increased seedling richness, indicating that dispersal limitation does not fully explain the lack of seedling establishment. At RBM, the seed bank richness of A. karroo stands increased with age since mining. While cumulative species richness of the seed bank of the oldest A. karroo stand at RBM was marginally lower than that at Cape Vidal, successful rehabilitation at RBM is associated with low seedling mortality. Consequently, forest tree species richness is high at RBM in the A. karroo stands and is converging on natural forest richness and composition. Although seed dispersal is reduced, it does not totally limit establishment of forest tree species in A. karroo stands at Cape Vidal, which implicates a post-establishment factor. Soil fertility potentially reduces seed germination and seedling growth. Soil nutrients in A. karroo stands at Cape Vidal were similar to those in the adjacent forest, and total nitrogen levels in A. karroo stands at Cape Vidal were higher than at RBM. Thus, soil conditions were unlikely to be limiting tree regeneration in A. karroo stands. Total nitrogen accumulated in the oldest stand at RBM at a rate of 10.0 g.m2.y(1 and a similarly rapid rate occurred at Cape Vidal. Therefore the A. karroo stands were not nitrogen limited. Nitrogen supplementation experiments at Cape Vidal demonstrated that a range of forest tree species establish in A. karroo stands regardless of nitrogen level, but there is low survival of seedlings. Thus, nitrogen availability is not arresting succession at Cape Vidal. Herbivory can also inhibit seedling recruitment. Selective feeding may enhance the persistence of species with defences against herbivory, such as A. karroo, ultimately altering the tree community composition. Browsing and trampling by large mammalian herbivores in A. karroo stands at Cape Vidal decreased survival and growth of forest tree seedlings. Large herbivores such as kudu, waterbuck, bushbuck and red duiker preferentially used the A. karroo stands as they offer abundant food and their topography allowed easy movement. This topdown pressure reduced recruitment, growth, and survival of seedlings of undefended species. Few wild herbivores occur at RBM, which allowed succession to proceed unhindered, ultimately restoring coastal dune forest at this site. Despite successful rehabilitation of coastal dune forest on mined dunes at RBM, limited seed dispersal and high levels of herb ivory have arrested succession at Cape Vidal. Thus, the A. karroo successional pathway must be implemented only after careful consideration of site-specific factors such as distance to a source of propagules and the intensity of herbivory in the system. In areas where herbivore densities are high, management interventions focusing on reducing herb ivory and encouraging visitation by seed dispersers are necessary for the successful use of this successional pathway.
- Masters Degrees (Botany)