Can brush-cutting of Pteronia paniculata improve the composition and productivity of veld in the Succulent Karoo, South Africa?
AbstractPteronia paniculata is an indigenous, unpalatable shrub that invades mismanaged Karooveld, resulting in degraded rangelands with low species diversity and grazing potential. We conducted a series of trials in the Succulent Karoo Randteveld near Barrydale to determine if the uniform defoliation of P. paniculata dominated vegetation at two heights (0.05 m and 0.20 m above ground level) using a brush-cutter and, in one trial, application of a second cut will improve the plant species composition, productivity and grazing capacity of the veld. Brush-cutting treatments and the uncut control all resulted in a change in species composition towards greater species diversity and more palatable species and an average increase of 540 kg ha–1 (28%) in above-ground biomass over four years. It appears that there was a pervasive improvement in species composition associated with a general decline in the cover and abundance of P. paniculata over the time-scale of the present study that was not influenced by the defoliation treatments, except for the 1996-cut treatment where the cover of P. paniculata increased. The absence of propagules of palatable species in the soil seed bank and competition from P. paniculata (a long-lived, perennial shrub) are assumed to be among the main reasons for the lack of response of the vegetation community to the defoliation treatments. Brush-cutting (in the absence of reseeding), aimed at reducing the dominance of unpalatable karoo shrubs, was more costly but not significantly better than long-term resting in improving veld composition or forage production.
Keywords: competition; defoliation; grazing capacity; palatability; rehabilitation
African Journal of Range & Forage Science 2009, 26(3): 181–190