Effects of Canopy Cover and Ground Disturbance on Establishment of an Invasive Grass in an Australia Savanna

Authors

  • S. A. Setterfield,

    Corresponding author
    1. Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Tropical Savanna CRC, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
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  • M. M. Douglas,

    1. Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Tropical Savanna CRC, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
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  • L. B. Hutley,

    1. Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Tropical Savanna CRC, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
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  • M. A. Welch

    1. Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Tropical Savanna CRC, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
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2 Corresponding author; e-mail: samantha.setterfield@cdu.edu.au

ABSTRACT

Andropogon gayanus (gamba grass) is an introduced pasture grass that threatens Australia's tropical savannas by modifying fire regimes and species composition. To understand the establishment requirements of A. gayanus, we undertook a field experiment to determine the effect of canopy cover and ground layer disturbance on seedling emergence and survival. Seed was sown under three canopy treatments (undisturbed, artificial canopy gap, and natural canopy gap) and under three ground layer treatments (Control, Vegetation disturbed, and Soil disturbed). Results have shown that A. gayanus can establish and survive regardless of canopy cover or ground disturbance, although such site disturbances will increase establishment success. Disturbance of both the overstorey canopy and the ground layer increased A. gayanus emergence, whereas seedling survival to 12 mo after seed sowing was affected by ground layer disturbance alone. Disturbance of the canopy increased light transmission, which may have promoted germination. Ground layer disturbance may also have increased light transmission and suitable sites for establishment, and reduced competition for resources, such as water and nutrients. The ability of A. gayanus to spread along disturbed areas, establish in relatively undisturbed savannas, and resprout after fire within 6 mo after seedling emergence suggests that this species will become increasingly widespread in Australia's tropical savannas. Its control is urgently required.

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