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Keywords:

  • Cenchrus ciliaris;
  • grassland;
  • Hawaii;
  • Heteropogon contortus;
  • invasive grasses;
  • priority effects

Abstract

Introduced grasses have displaced Hawaiian Pili grass (Heteropogon contortus) in most dry, leeward habitats of the Hawaiian Islands. The purpose of this study was to assess the feasibility of restoring an indigenous Heteropogon grassland at the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, where introduced Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) is now dominant. Heteropogon seeds (50 seedlings/m2) were added to replicate plots within a Cenchrus grassland. Some plots were subjected to one-time herbicide or hand-pulling treatments to remove established Cenchrus. Because Hawaiians historically used fire to promote Heteropogon grasslands, the plots were burned biennially. Plots were also subjected to two levels of water supplementation. Heteropogon establishment was monitored over 2 and 4 years in the higher- and lower-water plots, respectively. In treatments containing established Cenchrus, Heteropogon establishment was consistently poor (<10% cover). But in the burned plots where established Cenchrus had been removed, as many as 31 Heteropogon seedlings per square meter were recorded, and Heteropogon became the dominant cover, averaging 34% absolute cover (81% relative cover) after 4 years in the lower-water plot and 34% absolute cover (60% relative cover) after 2 years in the higher-water plot. Few Cenchrus grass seedlings survived, possibly due to insufficient water. Water supplementation promoted growth of other alien grasses from the seed bank (Digitaria insularis and Eragrostis spp.); however, these grasses quickly declined after supplemental watering was terminated. Although initial suppression of Cenchrus was required, Heteropogon expanded quickly when seeds and fire were reintroduced, demonstrating that a Heteropogon-dominated grassland can be reestablished in 2–4 years.