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Article << Previous     |         Contents Vol 34(2)

Dense regeneration of floodplain Eucalyptus coolabah: invasive scrub or passive restoration of an endangered woodland community?

Megan K. Good A D , Jodi N. Price B , Peter J. Clarke C and Nick Reid A

A Ecosystem Management, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.
B Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Estonia, 51005.
C Botany, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: mgood4@une.edu.au

The Rangeland Journal 34(2) 219-230 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ12008
Submitted: 16 January 2012  Accepted: 30 April 2012   Published: 31 May 2012

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Clearing of native vegetation and changes to disturbance regimes have resulted in dense regeneration of native trees and shrubs in parts of Australia. The conversion of open vegetation to dense woodlands may result in changes to the composition of plant communities and ecosystem function if structure, composition and function are tightly linked. Widespread clearing of the floodplain tree Eucalyptus coolabah subsp. coolabah (coolibah), in New South Wales, Australia, has led to state and federal listings of coolibah woodland as an endangered ecological community. Dense regeneration of coolibah in the mid 1970s, however, also resulted in its listing as an ‘invasive native species’ in NSW, meaning it can be legally cleared under certain conditions. Dense regeneration could be a novel state dissimilar to the threatened community or it could represent the next generation of coolibah woodlands and may contribute to passive restoration of heavily cleared landscapes. This study investigated if dense stands are distinct from remnant woodland by comparing floristic composition of the ground-storey community and top-soil properties of four coolibah vegetation states: derived grassland, derived degraded grassland, dense regeneration and remnant woodland. Ground-storey composition was found to overlap broadly among states regardless of tree density. Most species were common to all states, although dense regeneration contained characteristic woodland species that were absent from grasslands. The carbon : nitrogen ratio of the soil was significantly higher in dense regeneration and remnant woodland than in either of the grassland states, indicating that the woody states are broadly similar in terms of nutrient cycling. The study demonstrates that structurally different vegetation states (grasslands, woodlands and dense regeneration) are not associated with distinct plant communities. The results also suggest that grazing management has a more pronounced effect on ground-storey composition of plant communities than tree density and that well managed derived grasslands and dense regeneration are floristically similar to remnant woodlands. Since dense regeneration and remnant woodlands are not floristically distinct from one another, dense regeneration could contribute to the conservation of endangered coolibah woodlands in cleared agricultural landscapes.

Additional keywords: derived grasslands, floodplains, regrowth, savanna, semiarid, woody plant encroachment.


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