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Old field colonization by native trees and shrubs following land use change: Could this be Victoria’s largest example of landscape recovery?

Authors

  • Luke S. Geddes,

  • Ian D. Lunt,

  • Lisa T. Smallbone,

  • John W. Morgan


Luke D. Geddes undertook this project as a research assistant in the Institute for Land, Water & Society, Charles Sturt University, and is now a PhD student in the Department of Botany, La Trobe University (Bundoora, Vic. 3086, Australia; Email: l.geddes@latrobe.edu.au). Ian D. Lunt is Associate Professor of Vegetation Ecology & Management in the Institute for Land, Water & Society, Charles Sturt University (PO Box 789, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia; Email: ilunt@csu.edu.au). Lisa T. Smallbone is a PhD student studying bird responses to regrowth vegetation in the Institute for Land, Water & Society, Charles Sturt University (PO Box 789, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia; Email: lsmallbone@csu.edu.au). John W. Morgan is a lecturer in vegetation ecology in the Department of Botany, La Trobe University (Bundoora, Vic. 3086, Australia; Email: j.morgan@latrobe.edu.au). This project is part of a larger investigation of the ecological dynamics and conservation values of post-agricultural regrowth in south-eastern Australia.

Abstract

Summary  Natural regeneration of farmland areas following landuse change has the potential to reinstate native vegetation and landscape processes across larger scales than intentional works. However, few examples of large-scale natural regeneration have been reported from southern Australia. In this study we use historical air photos to document the rate of establishment of natural regeneration in central Victoria following a change from agricultural to rural residential land use. In 2009, regrowth patches occupied 8185 ha, or 12.3% of the cleared landscape in the study region, mostly on relatively low fertility soils. Most of this area (6216 ha) supported Cassinia shrubland, with eucalypts encroaching as patches get older. On average, native vegetation has regenerated over nearly 1800 ha every decade since the mid-1960s. If this trend continues, regrowth will occupy 20% of infertile soils on private land by 2025. This region now appears to support one of the largest examples of old field succession recorded from south-eastern Australia. Regrowth patches are likely to provide many conservation benefits, although little information exists on habitat values provided by regrowth shrublands. Since regeneration is on private land, perceptions of whether regrowth is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ will vary according to landholder goals, as will future management of regrowth patches. Consequently, considerable ecological and social research is required to understand the ecosystem services and disservices which regrowth provides to both landholders and biota.

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