4 years ago

Change to ecosystem properties through changing the dominant species: Impact of Pteridium aquilinum-control and heathland restoration treatments on selected soil properties

It is well known that soils are influenced by the plant species that grow in them. Here we consider the effects of management-induced changes to plant communities and their soils during restoration within a 20-year manipulative experiment where the aim was to change a late-successional community dominated by the weed, Pteridium aquilinum, to an earlier-successional grass-heath one. The ecological restoration treatments altered the above- and below-ground components of the community substantially. Untreated plots maintained a dense Pteridium cover with little understory vegetation, cutting treatments produce significant reductions of Pteridium, whereas herbicide (asulam) produced significant immediate reductions in Pteridium but regressed towards the untreated plots within 10 years. Thereafter, all asulam-treated plots were re-treated in year 11, and then were spot-sprayed annually. Both cutting and asulam treatments reduced frond density to almost zero and resulted in a grass-heath vegetation. There was also a massive change in biomass distribution, untreated plots had a large above-ground biomass/necromass that was much reduced where Pteridium was controlled. Below-ground in treated plots, there was a replacement of the substantive Pteridium rhizome mass with a much greater root mass of other species. The combined effects of Pteridium-control and restoration treatment, reduced soil total C and N as and available P concentrations, but increased soil pH and available N. Soil biological activity was also affected with a reduction in soil N mineralization rate, but an increased soil-root respiration. Multivariate analysis showed a clear trend along a pH/organic matter gradient, with movement along it correlated to management intensity from the untreated plots with low pH/high organic matter and treated plots with to a higher pH/lower organic matter in the sequence asulam treatment, cut once per year to cut twice per year. The role that these changed soil conditions might have in restricting Pteridium recovery are discussed.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0301479717310885

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