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Abstract

A numerical floristic analysis of samples across a monsoon forest-savanna boundary, from an area that had been actively protected from fire for 15 years, at Weipa, northern Australia, revealed three communities: (i) a monsoon forest with a low closed canopy composed mainly of tree species with extra-Australian tropical affinities and a sparse ground layer; (ii) an ecotone with a distinct closed microphyll shrub layer beneath the open canopy of savanna trees; and (iii) a savanna dominated by Eucalyptus tetrodonta. The development of the ecotone has occurred since fire protection and is of limited extent within the fire protected block. The monsoon forest occurred on soils with significantly higher concentrations of bauxitic pisoliths than the other two communities. Soils under the monsoon forest had significantly higher concentrations of total K, S, C, N, exchangeable K and Ca, and higher pH and electrical conductivity than for soils of either of the other communities. A positive relationship between woody basal area and concentrations of surface soil total P, N, C, exchangeable Ca, CEC and gravel was detected across a 20 m transect from the ecotone community into the savanna. The invasion of monsoon forest seedlings was greatest in the ecotone, with few occurring in the savanna. It appears that the expansion of the monsoon forest requires the development of a layer of shrubs. The mechanism of this facilitation is unclear, although the possible role of nutrient enrichment by the shrubs requires further investigation.