Effects of seed and seedling predation by small mammals on seedling recruitment of Protea neriifolia in Swartboskloof, Cape Province
Seed and seedling predation by small mammals, thought to be significant factors controlling the recruitment of Proteaceae in fynbos shrublands, were studied in a fynbos shrubland before and after a fire in March 1987. Seeds of Protea neriifolia R.Br. were planted inside and outside 14 mm mesh exclosures. The abundance of small mammals was recorded at two fynbos and five forest sites before the fire and at an additional forest and fynbos site after the fire. Seed predation reduced seedling recruitment from seeds planted in March 1986 in mature fynbos, but the reduction was significant only at the site with the highest abundance of small mammals. Seed predation did not significantly reduce seedling recruitment from seed planted in July, August and September 1986 in mature fynbos. The primary cause of seedling mortality before the fire was wilting, presumably owing to moisture stress. After the fire small mammal abundance decreased in burnt fynbos and increased in unburnt forest refuges until eight months after the fire when it increased again in the fynbos to a maximum of 41 animals per 100 trapnights two years after the fire. Seedling predation by small mammals had a limited impact after the fire probably because their numbers dropped soon after the fire. The effects of seed predation did not decrease with increasing distance from a forest refuge. Fungal pathogens and herbivory by insects were the primary causes of seedling mortality after the fire. Small mammal abundance in mature fynbos 25-30 years after a fire may have been too low to prevent the recruitment of a second cohort of P. neriifolia seedlings.