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Biodiversity change in heathland and its relationships with shifting local fire regimes and native species expansion

Shackelford, N., Renton, M., Perring, M.P., Brooks, K. and Hobbs, R.J. (2015) Biodiversity change in heathland and its relationships with shifting local fire regimes and native species expansion. Journal of Plant Ecology, 8 (1). pp. 17-29.

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Aims Understanding the relationships among disturbance, invasion and species change is essential for effective management of many systems. We investigated relationships among fire history, invasion by a native tree species, Allocasuarina huegeliana, and diversity change to understand the potential drivers of plant community alteration in a complex and biodiverse system. Methods We used plant species surveys from 1983 and 2011 to quantify species loss/gain and thence compositional changes. Additionally, we surveyed population densities of the invasive species and collated long-term fire history data for each site. General linear models and non-parametric models were used to assess the strength of relationships between the three variables of interest. Important Findings Within the last 30 years, ~11% of the plant species richness was lost from the reserve. At an individual site level, we found only a 4% average decrease in overall plant species richness, but large species losses and gains that imply considerable compositional shifts. Though such shifts might be expected over 30 years, many of the gained species were common, potentially opportunistic species, while those lost were often locally rare woody perennials. In addition, gained species tended to be expanding their recorded range westward suggesting that they may be responding to the regional drying climate. The relationship between invasion density and species loss was strong over all spatial scales. We identified a potential state change to dominance by the native invasive particularly as high densities prevented species gain at the site scale. In these extreme cases of high invasive density and high biodiversity loss, we argue that there may be a need to directly address the expanding native population.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: Centre of Excellence for Climate Change and Forest and Woodland Health
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Copyright: © The Author 2014.
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