Grazing and community structure as determinants of invasion success by Scotch broom in a New Zealand montane shrubland



Abstract. Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius (L.) Link; Fabaceae) is a problematic invasive plant in many countries, and while attention has been paid to traits that make it a successful invader, there has been less focus on the properties of ecosystems that it invades. We conducted an experiment in a New Zealand montane shrubland with tussock grasses that has been invaded by Scotch broom to determine features that rendered it susceptible to invasion. We planted broom seedlings into the shrubland (control) and into three treatments: (1) resident shrubs removed, (2) tussocks removed and (3) shrubs and tussocks removed. We measured broom seedling mortality and growth over two growing seasons. The site was grazed by sheep in the first season, and scarcely grazed in the second, wetter season. Survivorship across all treatments after 19 months was 42%, and was lowest where shrubs were retained but tussocks removed. Broom seedlings grew taller and had greater leaf areas in treatments that retained shrubs. Neighbouring (within 49 cm) shrubs had no effects on survivorship or growth of broom seedlings. Neighbouring tussocks increased survivorship of broom seedlings but depressed their growth. Grazing by sheep was the most important determinant of survivorship and growth of broom seedlings, and effects were uniform regardless of experimental treatments. Initial high mortality of seedlings (48% in the first 3 months) was due to grazing, and height growth was often negative during periods of grazing. In the second growing season when the site was less grazed and there was greater rainfall, there was a rapid increase in height across all treatments. Continued grazing of the site by sheep is likely to be the chief means of retarding the invasion.