Lantana camara L. invasions in dry rainforest - open forest ecotones: The role of disturbances associated with fire and cattle grazing



Abstract A field experiment was used to evaluate the effects of fire and cattle grazing on the initiation of Lantana camara invasions in dry rainforest-open forest ecotones in the gorges of the Macleay River, NSW. A factorial combination of four factors (burning, biomass removal, soil scarification, and fertilization) at two levels (presence and absence) was established to assess the suitability of disturbed patches for germination, survival, and growth in association with changes in microclimate and resource availability. Burning, biomass removal and soil scarification, either singularly or in any combination, significantly increased germination, on average, by 19%, from 50.2% to 59.7%. Survival increased on average 26% across all treatments while mortality decreased by 26% when compared with the control. The differences between treatment combinations were not significant. Seedling growth was significantly enhanced by all disturbances, except by soil scarification alone. Treatment combinations that reduced vegetation cover (burning and/or biomass removal) and, therefore reduced shading, significantly increased L. camara biomass production by an average of 140% for all treatments. The control yielded 14.0 g m−2, while fertilizer alone and biomass removal alone yielded 27.6 g m−2 and 40.5 g m−2, respectively. Other treatment combinations averaged 35.2 g m−2 and were not significantly different from each other. Consequently, successful invasions are likely to occur whenever canopy disturbances create patches of greatly decreased competition and/or increased resource availability. Shading plays a greater role as a limiting factor than any other, while surface soil macronutrient levels are also important, particularly when combined with canopy disturbances that increase light availability. The effects of biomass reduction and soil disturbance associated with fire and cattle grazing are significant in the successful invasion of L. camara. Management strategies to reduce weed encroachment and community degradation must identify and maintain ecological barriers to L. camara invasion in order to promote rainforest conservation and biodiversity.