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Article     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 25(1)

Vegetation changes in a semiarid tropical savanna, northern Australia: 1973–2002

Gary Bastin, John Ludwig, Robert Eager, Adam Liedloff, Reginald Andison and Michael Cobiac

The Rangeland Journal 25(1) 3 - 19
Published: 15 June 2003


We measured vegetation changes inside and outside two exclosures built in 1973 on red calcareous loam soils located in Conkerberry Paddock on Victoria River Research Station in northern Australia. These two exclosures were unburnt since their establishment in 1973 until exclosure 1 was unintentionally burnt late in the dry season (October) of 2001. Data from permanent transects and examples from photopoints illustrate that from mostly bare soils in 1973, total pasture biomass recovered relatively rapidly both inside and outside exclosures (in about five years). This initial recovery was primarily due to the establishment of annual grasses and forbs. After this five year period, there was a consistent increase in the biomass of perennial grasses, such as Heteropogon contortus and Dichanthium spp. Also in the first five years after exclosure, the exotic shrub, Calotropis procera,invaded the study area, but then largely disappeared in a period of lower wet-season rainfall in the late 1980s. The density of native tree species, particularly Hakea arborescens, Eucalyptus pruinosa and Lysiphyllum cunninghamii increased in general, but more so inside one or other of the exclosures. Although the late dry-season fire of 2001 reduced the density of larger H. arborescens and L. cunninghamii inside the exclosure at Site 1, this effect was not apparent for smaller trees and for trees outside this exclosure. Our findings show that savanna vegetation can change massively in the medium term (29 years) and that exclosure from cattle grazing can contribute to our understanding of the role of livestock in such change. However, exclosures by themselves do not provide adequate information about the processes leading to vegetation change replicated experimental studies are needed. That substantial increase in the biomass and proportion of perennial grasses occurred with light to moderate cattle grazing implies that these rangelands can be managed for production, although control of woody vegetation is an issue. Keywords: vegetation change; exclosure; semi-arid tropics; tree-grass balance; Heteropogon contortus; Eucalyptus; Hakea

Full text doi:10.1071/RJ03001

© ARS 2003

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