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Restoration potential of native forests after removal of conifer plantation: A perspective from Australia

Kasel, S., Bell, T.L., Enright, N.J.ORCID: 0000-0003-2979-4505 and Meers, T.L. (2015) Restoration potential of native forests after removal of conifer plantation: A perspective from Australia. Forest Ecology and Management, 338 . pp. 148-162.

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This study investigates whether undertaking a rotation of pine plantation on abandoned farmland facilitates the return of native species. Plant functional traits were used as a means of assessing the effects of land-use change on vegetation. We explored the relationships among plant traits, time since harvesting and environmental variables for the vegetation found in Pinus radiata plantations after clear-felling. Vegetation was monitored 1-3. years following harvesting and repeated eight years later. We compared species richness, composition and traits to those in reference native forest and abandoned farmland. There was a significant temporal shift in attribute associations of harvested plantations towards those in native forest and a move away from plant attributes common to the pre-plantation use of abandoned farmland. Cluster analysis produced ten emergent groups of plant functional traits for 144 plant species. After harvesting, attribute associations were typical of therophytes and included high specific leaf area (SLA), small stature, arbuscular or non-mycorrhizal associations and small, wind-dispersed seed. These were predominantly introduced species that were dominant in abandoned farmland. The repeat survey identified an obvious decrease in therophytes and an increase in species with low SLA, ant dispersal, large seed and ectomycorrhizal associations. This was largely due to an increase in native Myrmecochorous shrubs. Similar attributes were also shared by Ericoid heaths but these species failed to recolonise harvested sites. Relationships among plant traits of species and environmental variables changed over time with a greater proportion of the variance in attribute associations explained by prevailing site conditions (e.g. type of ground cover, edaphic properties) with increasing time since harvesting. There were no relationships among plant attribute associations and stem density or basal area of planted overstorey species suggesting that planting of tubestock seedlings of native overstorey species does not effectively promote the development of native vegetation. The persistence of introduced grasses in areas of former plantation, recruitment failure of native species and a ready supply of introduced species from surrounding land uses suggest that additional rehabilitation measures will be required to promote the return of a fuller complement of native species.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2014 Elsevier B.V.
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