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University of Stellenbosch (2009)

Soil nitrogen and phosphorus depletion as a means of restoring degraded lowland fynbos ecosystems invaded by alien grasses

Ruwanza, Sheunesu

Titre : Soil nitrogen and phosphorus depletion as a means of restoring degraded lowland fynbos ecosystems invaded by alien grasses

Auteur : Ruwanza, Sheunesu

Université de soutenance : University of Stellenbosch

Grade : MSc (Conservation Ecology and Entomology) 2009

Résumé
Much of South African lowland fynbos vegetation has been transformed by agriculture and invasive alien grass species. The artificial reduction of plant available N and P levels in soils, through the addition of carbon and calcium respectively, may provide a means of retarding the growth of alien grasses stimulated by soil nutrient enrichment. Furthermore, the competitive advantage of native lowland fynbos species adapted to nutrient impoverished soils may be increased by these additions. The above premise was tested in both field- and greenhouse-based trials by applying systemic and contact herbicides to reduce the large alien invasive grass biomass. This was followed by the addition of C as sucrose and Ca as gypsum to reduce plant available N and P respectively in the soils. The effects of these combined herbicide and soil nutrient amendment treatments on plant physiology and growth were examined in both resident alien and indigenous species and in several herbaceous and woody native species introduced as seeds and seedlings. Also, soils sampled from the different treatments in both trials were chemically analyzed. There was a total absence of seedling recruitment from seeds of all 9 indigenous species sown into soils in the field-based trial while introduced juveniles of another 9 indigenous species displayed a high mortality during the dry summer season. These detrimental effects were less severe in the greenhouse-based trial which received more regular watering and where successful seedling recruitment from seeds sown occurred in four indigenous species. Sucrose additions, both exclusively and in combination with gypsum, caused significant reductions in foliar chlorophyll, photosystem II (PSII) function and above-ground biomass of most resident and introduced alien and indigenous species. These reductions were less prominent where herbicides were applied, a possible consequence of N and P supplementation of soils by the decomposing plant biomass. This was supported by the elevated soil K, Na and N concentrations measured in soils where contact and systemic herbicides were applied. However, no significant changes in soil N or P were apparent following sucrose and gypsum additions respectively, the latter attributed to the acidic soils which precluded the formation of insoluble P complexes. A second study tested the hypothesis that exogenous sucrose addition to soils inhibits plant growth by stimulating soil microbial biomass which accumulates soil nitrogen rendering it unavailable to plants.

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