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Keywords:

  • ecological restoration;
  • functional guilds;
  • species richness;
  • watershed management;
  • weed species

Abstract The recovery of fynbos vegetation after invasion by dense stands of alien trees, and clearing by either ‘burn standing’, ‘fell and burn’, or ‘fell, remove and burn’ treatments, was investigated in two watersheds in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Native plant density, cover, functional and biological guilds and species richness were compared with matched control sites that were not invaded, but were burnt in the same fires. Species richness was lower for invaded sites compared to controls, at all scales measured (up to 2000m2). Species area curves for invaded sites did not converge with those of controls, indicating that lower richness at smaller scales was not compensated by increased species survival at a larger scale. Indigenous plant density and cover were lower for invaded sites compared to controls. Overall, treatment differences were non-significant, but the ‘burn standing’ treatment caused the least change to vegetation variables, and the ‘fell, remove and burn’ and ‘fell and burn’ treatments caused greater, similar changes. Changes to the guild structure of the recovering fynbos stands differed among treatments, and indicated that the ‘fell and burn’ treatment had the greatest negative effect on guild survival. In the ‘fell and burn’ treatment, which resulted in an exceptionally intense fire, only non-mycorrhizal graminoids (predominantly myrmecochores) persisted relatively well. Because of practical problems associated with the ‘burn standing’ and ‘fell, remove and burn’ treatments, managers often have little option but to apply the ‘fell and burn’ treatment. Our results illustrate the dangers of this, and highlight the need for intervention before areas become densely invaded. They also highlight the need for effective biological control agents to reduce rates of spread of aggressively invasive species.