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Keywords:

  • community structure;
  • restoration;
  • seed burial;
  • seed persistence;
  • soil-stored seed-banks

Abstract

South African fynbos vegetation is threatened on a large scale by invasive woody plants. A major task facing nature conservation managers is to restore invaded areas. The aim of this study was to determine the restoration potential of fynbos following dense invasion by the Australian tree Acacia saligna. The impacts of dense invasion on seed-bank composition and depth distribution were investigated to determine which fynbos guilds and species have the most persistent seed-banks. Soil samples were excavated at three different depths for invaded and uninvaded vegetation at two sand plain and mountain fynbos sites. Seed-banks were determined using the seedling emergence approach. Invasion caused a significant reduction in seed-bank density and richness at all sites. There was a significant, but smaller, reduction in seed-bank density and richness with soil depth at three sites. Seed-bank composition and guild structure changed following invasion. Low persistence of long-lived obligate seeders in sand plain fynbos seed-banks indicates that this vegetation type will be difficult to restore from the seed-bank alone following alien clearance. The dominance of short-lived species, especially graminoids, forbs and ephemeral geophytes, suggests that regenerating vegetation will develop into a herbland rather than a shrubland. It is recommended that seed collecting and sowing form part of the restoration plan for densely invaded sand plain sites. As seed density remained higher towards the soil surface following invasion, there is no general advantage in applying a mechanical soil disturbance treatment. However, if the shallow soil seed-bank becomes depleted, for example following a hot fire through dense alien slash, a soil disturbance treatment should be given to exhume the deeper viable seed-bank and promote recruitment.