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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 32(2)

Feral goats (Capra hircus L.) in the Macleay River gorge system, north-eastern New South Wales, Australia. II. Impacts on rainforest vegetation

Philip Pisanu A B F, Paul Bayne A C, Robert Harden A D, Ann Eggert A E

A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, c/- Zoology, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.
B Current address: Department for Environment and Heritage South Australia, PO Box 39, Kingscote, SA 5223, Australia.
C Current address: 140 Mt Mitchell Road, Armidale, NSW 2530, Australia.
D Current address: 16 Perrott Street, Armidale, NSW 2530, Australia.
E Current address: 41 Redbank Road, Wauchope, NSW 2446, Australia.
F Corresponding author. Email: pisanu.phil@saugov.sa.gov.au
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The impacts of feral goats in rainforests and thickets of the Macleay River system were studied. Rainforest floristics and diversity and goat browsing were measured over five years in a large-scale experiment with two experimental controls (density <1 goat km–2 and density ~20 goats km2), and a goat-removal treatment (670-ha exclosure, initial density ~20 goats km2). Feral goats browsed forb, shrub, tree and vine species. Sites with many goats were browsed at significantly higher levels than sites from which goats were removed and sites where goats occurred at very low density (<1 goat km–2). Contrary to findings in other studies, no plant species declined substantially where goat densities remained high throughout the study. Only the native forb Urtica incisa increased markedly following removal of goats. High goat numbers were not linked to increased exotic species abundances. At the community scale, species richness, diversity and evenness did not vary substantially among treatments in any year, nor did ordinations of sites (multidimensional scaling) reveal any pattern of site similarity between years that could be related to either goat presence or absence. Rainfall may have influenced plant density and masked the effects of feral goats. Rainforests in the region appear to be resilient to browsing under present feral goat densities, probably because goats feed predominantly in adjacent grassy woodlands and forests. However, we recommend a precautionary approach to feral goat management as these rainforests and thickets are of high conservation value.

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