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Keywords:

  • Acacia saligna;
  • available N;
  • biological invasions;
  • invasive alien plants;
  • litter quality;
  • nitrogen cycle;
  • nitrogen fixation;
  • nutrient dynamics;
  • restoration;
  • secondary invasions

Abstract

Recent efforts to clear invasive plants from the fynbos of South Africa forces managers to think about how N2-fixing invasives have altered ecosystem processes and the implications of these changes for community development. This study investigated the changes in nitrogen (N) cycling regimes in fynbos with the invasion of Acacia saligna, the effects of clear-cutting acacia stands on soil microclimate and N cycling, and how altered N resources affected the growth of a weedy grass species. Litterfall, litter quality, soil nutrient pools, and ion exchange resin (IER)-available soil N were measured in uninvaded fynbos, intact acacia, and cleared acacia stands. In addition, a bioassay experiment was used to ascertain whether the changes in soil nutrient availability associated with acacia would enhance the success of a weedy grass species. Acacia plots had greater amounts of litterfall, which had higher concentrations of N. This led to larger quantities of organic matter, total N, and IER-available N in the soil. Clearing acacia stands caused changes in soil moisture and temperature, but did not result in differences in IER-available N. The alteration of N availability by acacias was shown to increase growth rates of the weedy grass Ehrharta calycina, suggesting that secondary invasions by nitrophilous weedy species may occur after clearing N2-fixing alien species in the fynbos. It is suggested that managers use controlled burns, the addition of mulch, and the addition of fynbos seed after clearing to lower the levels of available N in the soil and initiate the return of native vegetation.