The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management

Ecological impacts of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) invasion in central Australia – does field evidence support a fire-invasion feedback?

Georgia Miller A C , Margaret Friedel B D , Paul Adam C and Vanessa Chewings B
+ Author Affliations
- Author Affliations

A Current address: 46 Helen St, Northcote, Vic. 3070, Australia.

B CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PO Box 2111, Alice Springs, NT 0871, Australia.

C University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW 2052, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

The Rangeland Journal 32(4) 353-365
Submitted: 18 November 2009  Accepted: 30 June 2010   Published: 26 November 2010


Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) has invaded extensive areas of arid and semi-arid Australia following its introduction as a pasture species and for erosion control. It has been suggested that buffel grass has initiated a positive fire-invasion feedback in central Australia, disrupting existing fire regimes, encouraging further buffel grass invasion, and disadvantaging the native woody flora in particular, but this hypothesis has not been tested quantitatively.

This study investigated recently burnt woodland areas near Alice Springs for evidence of a fire-invasion feedback, including the impact of changing fire behaviour (intensity) on the native woodland overstorey flora. Despite the limitations inherent in a short study of ecological processes in a highly heterogeneous environment, substantial field evidence was found to support the existence of a buffel grass-initiated fire-invasion feedback.

Buffel grass invasion was significantly correlated with increased fuel loads. Increased fuel loads were significantly correlated with increased burn severity, although the direct relationship between the proportion of buffel grass and increased burn severity was marginally non-significant. High field variance resulted in inadequate power to test whether or not the relative abundance of buffel grass had increased in the post-fire community. Burn severity was significantly correlated with the mortality of woodland overstorey species, and with the proportion of fire survivors that were reduced to basal resprouts. Seedling density of canopy species was low. It appears likely that future recruitment of canopy species will be hindered by the dense post-fire reestablishment of buffel grass cover at some sites. The overstorey flora is thus likely to be adversely affected by increased severity of fire associated with buffel grass invasion. As a result, there may be major change in the structure and composition of some woodlands.

Additional keywords: fuel load, burn severity, tree and shrub mortality, run-on/run-off.


This study was undertaken as part of an honours degree in Environmental Science, from the University of New South Wales. We thank the University, CSIRO and their staff, for their support. We also thank numerous other contributors to this study: Chris Day, Grant Allan, Bill Low, Greg O’Reilly, Dave Albrecht, Gary Dinham, Peter Latz, Andrew Franks, Karen May, Mike Barritt, Kim Webeck and their many colleagues. Comments on the manuscript were provided by Leigh Hunt, Teresa Eyre and two unknown referees, and were much appreciated.


Adair R. J. , and Groves R. H. (1998). ‘Impact of Environmental Weeds on Biodiversity: A Review and Development of a Methodology.’ (Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia: Canberra.)

Albrecht D., Pitts B. (1997) Buffel grass on Parks and Wildlife Commission reserves. Alice Springs Rural Review 27, 7. open url image1

Albrecht D. E. , Duguid A. W. , and Coulson H. (1999). ‘Vascular Plant Checklist for the Southern Bioregions of the Northern Territory: Update Bulletin No. 1.’ (Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory: Alice Springs.)

Albrecht D. E. , Duguid A. W. , Latz P. K. , Coulson H. , and Barritt M. J. (1997). ‘Vascular Plant Checklist for the Southern Bioregions of the Northern Territory: Nomenclature, Distribution and Conservation Status.’ (Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory: Alice Springs.)

Allan C. (1997) A brief history of buffel grass in central Australia. Alice Springs Rural Review 27, 2. open url image1

Anable M. E., McClaran M. P., Ruyle G. B. (1992) Spread of introduced Lehmann lovegrass Eragrostis lehmanniana Nees. in Southern Arizona, USA. Biological Conservation 61, 181–188.
CrossRef | open url image1

Bennett L. T., Judd T. S., Adams M. A. (2002) Growth and nutrient content of perennial grasslands following burning in semi-arid, sub-tropical Australia. Plant Ecology 164, 185–199.
CrossRef | open url image1

Best R. A. (1998). The effect of introduced buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L., Poaceae) on the diversity and abundance of invertebrates in semi-arid central Australia. Grad. Dip. Thesis, Faculty of Science, Northern Territory University, Darwin, Australia.

Bureau of Meteorology (2002). Alice Springs Long-term Climate Data. Available at: (accessed 17 October 2002).

Butler D. W., Fairfax R. J. (2003) Buffel grass and fire in a gidgee and brigalow woodland; a case study from central Queensland. Ecological Management & Restoration 4, 120–125.
CrossRef | open url image1

Chambers D. P., Attiwill P. M. (1994) The ash-bed effect in Eucalyptus regnans forest: chemical, physical and microbiological changes in soil after heating or partial sterilisation. Australian Journal of Botany 42, 739–749.
CrossRef | CAS | open url image1

Cheam A. H. (1984a) Allelopathy in buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) Part I. Influence of buffel grass association on calotrope (Calotropis procera (Ait.) W.T. Ait.). Australian Weeds 3, 133–136. open url image1

Cheam A. H. (1984b) Allelopathy in buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.) Part II. Site of release and distribution of allelochemical in the soil profile. Australian Weeds 3, 137–139. open url image1

Christie E. K. (1975) A note on the significance of Eucalyptus populnea for buffel grass production in infertile semi-arid rangelands. Tropical Grasslands 9, 243–246. open url image1

Christie E. K., Moorby J. (1975) Physiological responses of semiarid grasses. I. The influence of phosphorus supply on growth and phosphorus absorption. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 26, 423–436.
CrossRef | open url image1

Clarke K. R. , and Gorley R. N. (2001). ‘Getting Started with Primer v5: User Manual/Tutorial.’ (Primer-E Ltd., Plymouth: UK.)

Clarke P. J., Latz P. K., Albrecht D. E. (2005) Long-term changes in semi-arid vegetation: Invasion of an exotic perennial grass has larger effects than rainfall variability. Journal of Vegetation Science 16, 237–248.
CrossRef | open url image1

Cox J. R., Ruyle G. B., Roundy B. A. (1990) Lehmann lovegrass in southeastern Arizona: Biomass production and disappearance. Journal of Range Management 43, 367–372.
CrossRef | open url image1

CSIRO (2007). Climate change in Australia. Technical Report, CSIRO Australia. Available at: (accessed 14 May 2010).

Daehler C. C., Carino D. A. (1998) Recent replacement of native pili grass (Heteropogon contortus) by invasive African grasses in the Hawaiian Islands. Pacific Science 52, 220–227. open url image1

D’Antonio C., Vitousek P. M. (1992) Biological invasions by exotic grasses, the grass/fire cycle, and global change. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 23, 63–87. open url image1

D’Antonio C. M., Tunison J. T., Loh R. K. (2000) Variation in the impact of exotic grasses on native plant composition in relation to fire across an elevation gradient in Hawaii. Austral Ecology 25, 507–522. open url image1

Daubenmire R. (1968) Ecology of fire in grasslands. Advances in Ecological Research 5, 209–266.
CrossRef | open url image1

Eliason S. A., Allen E. B. (1997) Exotic grass competition in suppressing native shrub re-establishment. Restoration Ecology 5, 245–255.
CrossRef | open url image1

Eyre T. J., Wang J., Venz M. F., Chilcott C., Whish G. (2009) Buffel grass in Queensland’s semi-arid woodlands: response to local and landscape scale variables, and relationship with grass, forb and reptile species. The Rangeland Journal 31, 293–305.
CrossRef | open url image1

Fairfax R. J., Fensham R. J. (2000) The effect of exotic pasture development on floristic diversity in central Queensland, Australia. Biological Conservation 94, 11–21.
CrossRef | open url image1

Franks A. J. (2002) The ecological consequences of buffel grass Cenchrus ciliaris establishment within remnant vegetation of Queensland. Pacific Conservation Biology 8, 99–107. open url image1

Friedel M. , Bastin G. , Brock C. , Butler D. , Clarke A. , Eyre T. , Fox F. , Grice T. , van Leeuwen S. , Pitt J. , Puckey H. , and Smyth A. (2007). ‘Developing a Research Agenda for the Distribution and Rate of Spread of Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) and Identification of Landscapes and Biodiversity Assets at Most Risk from Invasion.’ (Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources: Canberra.)

Friedel M. , Puckey H. , O’Malley C. , Waycott M. , Smyth A. , and Miller G. (2006). ‘Buffel Grass: Both Friend and Foe. An Evaluation of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Buffel Grass Use and Recommendations for Future Research.’ (Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre: Alice Springs.)

Friedel M. H. (1981) Studies of central Australian semidesert rangelands. I. Range condition and the biomass dynamics of the herbage layer and litter. Australian Journal of Botany 29, 219–231.
CrossRef | open url image1

Fulbright N., Fulbright T. E. (1990) Germination of 2 legumes in leachate from introduced grasses. Journal of Range Management 43, 466–467.
CrossRef | open url image1

Green S. B. , Salkind N. J. , and Akey T. M. (2000). ‘Using SPSS for Windows: Analysing and Understanding Data.’ (Prentice Hall Inc.: New Jersey.)

Griffin G. F. (1993). The spread of buffel grass in inland Australia: land use conflicts. In: ‘Proceedings I: 10th Australian Weeds Conference and 14th Asian Pacific Weed Science Society Conference’. pp. 501–504. (The Weed Society of Queensland on behalf of the Council of Australian Weed Societies and the Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society: Brisbane.)

Griffin G. F., Friedel M. H. (1984) Effects of fire on central Australian rangelands. II. Changes in tree and shrub populations. Australian Journal of Ecology 9, 395–403.
CrossRef | open url image1

Griffin G. F., Price N. F., Portlock H. F. (1983) Wildfires in the Central Australian Rangelands, 1970–1980. Journal of Environmental Management 17, 311–323. open url image1

Harrington G. N. (1991) Effects of soil moisture on shrub seedling survival in a semi-arid grassland. Ecology 72, 1138–1149.
CrossRef | open url image1

Hodgkinson K. C. , and Griffin G. F. (1982). Adaptation of shrub species to fires in the arid zone. In: ‘The Evolution of the Flora and Fauna of Arid Australia’. (Eds W. R. Barker and P. J. M. Greenslade.) pp. 145–152. (Peacock Publications: Frewville.)

Hughes F., Vitousek P. M. (1993) Barriers to shrub reestablishment following fire in the seasonal submontane zone of Hawaii. Oecologia 93, 557–563.
CrossRef | open url image1

Hughes F., Vitousek P. M., Tunison T. (1991) Alien grass invasion and fire in the seasonal submontane zone of Hawaii. Ecology 72, 743–746.
CrossRef | open url image1

Humphreys L. R. (1967) Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) in Australia. Tropical Grasslands 1, 123–134. open url image1

Humphries S. E. (1993). Environmental impact of weeds. In: ‘Proceedings II: 10th Australian Weeds Conference and 14th Asian Pacific Weed Science Society Conference. Plenary Papers’. pp. 1–12. (The Weed Society of Queensland on behalf of The Council of Australian Weed Societies and the Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society: Brisbane.)

Humphries S. E., Groves R. H., Mitchell D. S. (1991) Plant invasions of Australian ecosystems: A status review and management directions. Kowari 2, 1–134. open url image1

Hussain F., Naqvi H. H., Ilahi I. (1982) Interference exhibited by Cenchrus ciliaris L. and Bothriochloa pertusa (L.) A. Camus. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 109, 513–523.
CrossRef | open url image1

Jones R. M., Hargreaves J. N. (1979) Improvements to the dry-weight-rank method for measuring botanical composition. Grass and Forage Science 34, 181–189.
CrossRef | open url image1

Knapp P. A. (1996) Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) dominance in the Great Basin Desert: History, persistence, and influences to human activities. Global Environmental Change 6, 37–52.
CrossRef | open url image1

Latz P. (1991). Buffel and couch grass in central Australian creeks and rivers. Newsletter of the Central Australian Conservation Council Inc. April, 5. Central Australian Conservation Council syn. Arid Lands Environment Centre, Alice Springs.

Lonsdale W. M. (1994) Inviting trouble: introduced pasture species in northern Australia. Australian Journal of Ecology 19, 345–354.
CrossRef | open url image1

Low T. (1997) Tropical pasture plants as weeds. Tropical Grasslands 31, 337–343. open url image1

Mack M., D’Antonio C. M. (1998) Impacts of biological invasions on disturbance regimes. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 13, 195–198.
CrossRef | open url image1

Moreno J. M., Oechel W. C. (1991) Fire intensity effects of germination of shrubs and herbs in southern California chaparral. Ecology 72, 1993–2004.
CrossRef | open url image1

Morrison D. A., Renwick J. A. (2000) Effects of variation in fire intensity on regeneration of co-occurring species of small trees in the Sydney region. Australian Journal of Botany 48, 71–79.
CrossRef | open url image1

Noble J. C. , and Grice A. C. (2002). Fire regimes in semi-arid and tropical pastoral lands: managing biological diversity and ecosystem function. In: ‘Flammable Australia: The Fire Regimes and Biodiversity of a Continent’. (Eds R. A. Bradstock, J. E. Williams and M. A. Gill.) pp. 373–400. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Parker I. M., Simberloff D., Lonsdale W. M., Goodell K., Wonham M., Kareiva P. M., Williamson M. H., Von Holle B., Moyle P. B., Byers J. E., Goldwasser L. (1999) Impact: towards a framework for understanding the ecological impacts of invaders. Biological Invasions 1, 3–19.
CrossRef | open url image1

Pickup G. (1985) The erosion cell – a geomorphic approach to landscape classification in range assessment. Australian Rangeland Journal 7, 114–121.
CrossRef | open url image1

Pitts B., Albrecht D. (2000) Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) control in Central Australia. Danthonia 9, 7–8. open url image1

Pollet J., Omi P. (2002) Effect of thinning and prescribed burning on crown fire severity in ponderosa pine forests. International Journal of Wildland Fire 11, 1–10.
CrossRef | open url image1

Quinn G. P. , and Keough M. J. (2002). ‘Experimental Design and Data Analysis for Biologists.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Rossiter N. A., Setterfield S. A., Douglas M. M., Hutley L. B. (2003) Testing the grass-fire cycle: alien grass invasion in the tropical savannas of northern Australia. Diversity & Distributions 9, 169–176.
CrossRef | open url image1

Rossiter-Rachor N. A., Setterfield S. A., Douglas M. M., Hutley L. B., Cook G. D. (2008) Andropogon gayanus (gamba grass) invasion increases fire-mediated nitrogen losses in the tropical savannas of northern Australia. Ecosystems 11, 77–88.
CrossRef | CAS | open url image1

Schultz A. M., Launchbaugh J. L., Biswell H. H. (1955) Relationship between grass density and seedling survival. Ecology 36, 226–238.
CrossRef | open url image1

Siegel S. , and Castellan N. J. J. (1988). ‘Non-parametric Statistics for the Behavioural Sciences.’ (McGraw-Hill Book Company: New York.)

Smyth A., Friedel M., O’Malley C. (2009) The influence of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) on biodiversity in an arid Australian landscape. The Rangeland Journal 31, 307–320.
CrossRef | open url image1

Stafford Smith D. M., Morton S. R. (1990) Review: a framework for the ecology of arid Australia. Journal of Arid Environments 18, 255–278. open url image1

Tongway D. , and Hindley N. (1995). ‘Manual for Assessment of Soil Condition of Tropical Grasslands.’ (CSIRO Australia, Division of Wildlife and Ecology: Canberra.)

Tothill J. C. , Hargreaves J. N. G. , Jones R. M. , and McDonald C. K. (1992). ‘BOTANAL – A Comprehensive Sampling and Computing Procedure for Estimating Pasture Yield and Composition. 1. Field Sampling.’ Tropical Agronomy Technical Memorandum No. 78. (CSIRO: St Lucia.)

Vilà M., Lloret F., Ogheri E., Terradas J. (2001) Positive fire-grass feedback in Mediterranean Basin woodlands. Forest Ecology and Management 147, 3–14.
CrossRef | open url image1

Vitousek P. M., Walker L. R. (1989) Biological invasion by Myrica faya in Hawai’i: Plant demography, nitrogen fixation ecosystem effects. Ecological Monographs 59, 247–265.
CrossRef | open url image1

Waldrop T. A., Brose P. H. (1999) A comparison of fire intensity levels for stand replacement of table mountain pine (Pinus pungens Lamb.). Forest Ecology and Management 113, 155–166.
CrossRef | open url image1

Walker J., Condon R. W., Hodgkinson K. C., Harrington G. N. (1981) Fire in pastoral areas of Poplar Box (Eucalyptus populnea) lands. Australian Rangeland Journal 3, 12–23.
CrossRef | open url image1

Whyte R. O. , Moir T. R. G. , and Cooper J. P. (1959). ‘Grasses in Agriculture.’ FAO Agricultural Study No. 42. (FAO: Rome.)

Wilkie A. (1997). ‘A Manual for the Production of Photographic Standards for Use in Herbage Yield and Cover Estimates.’ Technical Bulletin No. 264. (Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries: Alice Springs.)

Williams D. G., Baruch Z. (2000) African grass invasion in the Americas: ecosystem consequences and the role of ecophysiology. Biological Invasions 2, 123–140.
CrossRef | open url image1

Wilson A. D., Mulham W. E. (1979) A survey of the regeneration of some problem shrubs and trees after wildfire in western New South Wales. Australian Rangeland Journal 1, 363–368.
CrossRef | open url image1

Wright B. A., Clarke P. J. (2007) Resprouting responses of Acacia shrubs in the Western Desert of Australia – fire severity, interval and season influence survival. International Journal of Wildland Fire 16, 317–323.
CrossRef | open url image1

Zar J. H. (1996). ‘Biostatistical Analysis.’ (Prentice-Hall Inc.: Upper Saddle River.)

Export Citation Cited By (43)