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Abstract

The success of restoration plantings in restoring indigenous forest vascular plant and ground invertebrate biodiversity was assessed on previously grass-covered sites in the eastern South Island, New Zealand. The composition and structure of grassland, three different aged restoration plantings (12, 30, and 35 years old), a naturally regenerating forest (100 years old), and a remnant of the original old-growth forest of the area were measured. The restoration plantings are dominated by the native tree Olearia paniculata, which is not indigenous to the study area. Despite this, indigenous forest invertebrate and plant species are present in all three restoration sites and with increasing age the restoration sites become compositionally more similar to the naturally regenerating and mature forest sites. In particular the regenerating vegetation of the restoration sites is very similar floristically to the regenerating vegetation of the naturally regenerating and mature forest sites, despite marked differences in the current canopy vegetation reflecting the presence of the planted O. paniculata. The presence of regeneration in all three restoration sites indicates that the functional processes that initiate regeneration, such as dispersal, are present. The majority of regenerating tree species (71%) are bird dispersed and it is clear that birds play an important role in the recolonization of plant species at these sites despite the absence of edible fruit attractive to frugivorous birds on O. paniculata, a wind-dispersed species. The strong correlations between plant and invertebrate community composition and study-site age (r = 0.80, −0.24, −0.68 for plants, beetles, and spiders, respectively) suggest that the restoration site plant and invertebrate communities are undergoing change in the direction of the naturally regenerating and mature forest communities. Without restoration, colonization of grassland by forest plants is very slow in the study area and the restoration plantings studied here have been successful because they have considerably accelerated the return to forest at these sites.