Grazing and the absence of fire promote the dominance of an unpalatable shrub in a patch mosaic cyclic successional system
Kirkpatrick, JB and Bridle, K, Grazing and the absence of fire promote the dominance of an unpalatable shrub in a patch mosaic cyclic successional system, Australian Journal of Botany, 64, (1) pp. 45-50. ISSN 1444-9862 (2016) [Refereed Article]
We experimentally determined how an apparently unpalatable and fire-sensitive shrub, Richea acerosa (Lindley) F.Muell., responded to the single and interactive effects of grazing and burning over 3–24 years at two subalpine sites in Tasmania. At the Middlesex Plains site, a low-intensity burn killed most individuals of the species 3 years after fire and fencing. At the Lake Botsford site, total grazing exclusion for 24 years resulted in a strong reduction of the number of small shrubs of the species, and in a lower proportion of dead material in plants of any given size. An open shrub layer results from the absence of R. acerosa seedlings in the open centres of senescing plants and their preferential location along the margins of the foliage of mature and senescing plants. Thus, the persistence of R. acerosa appears to require an absence of frequent fire and the presence of sufficient grazing pressure from vertebrate herbivores to produce lawn between shrubs. Richea acerosa is, thus, an unpalatable shrub that depends on grazing.