Is there a relationship between herbaceous species richness and buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)?



Abstract Cenchrus ciliaris L. (buffel grass) (Poaceae) is recognized as one of Australia's most serious environmental weeds. This introduced grass has been associated with loss of native species and alteration of fire regimes. However, it is also highly valued as a pasture species for arid and semiarid zones and its weed status is highly controversial. Quantitative studies are needed to determine its ecological effects. The relationship between C. ciliaris and herbaceous species richness was investigated in two studies at a range of scales up to 64 m2 in open woodlands in the Dalrymple Shire, north-eastern Queensland. In the first study, the herbaceous species composition of sites with and without C. ciliaris were compared. Cenchrus ciliaris-dominated sites had fewer herbaceous species than non-C. ciliaris sites at all scales investigated and this pattern was found for the major plant groups (perennial grasses, legumes and other forbs) present. In the second study, the relationship between varying levels of C. ciliaris biomass and species richness was investigated. The relationship between varying levels of a dominant native grass, Bothriochloa ewartiana (Domin) C.E. Hubb. (Poaceae), and species richness was also determined for comparison with the C. ciliaris biomass-richness relationship. In this study, species richness was negatively associated with increasing C. ciliaris biomass at some scales and it appeared that C. ciliaris had a greater effect on richness than B. ewartiana. The negative association between C. ciliaris and species richness is consistent with the view that invasion by C. ciliaris poses a threat to biodiversity. However, the precise cause of the relationship has yet to be determined.