New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1997) 21(1): 73- 79

Burning in a New Zealand snow-tussock grassland: Effects on vegetation and soil fauna

Research Article
G. W. Yeates 1
William G. Lee 2
  1. Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, Private Bag 11052, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  2. Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin, New Zealand

Soil conditions, vegetation features and soil fauna were recorded in montane tall tussock grassland dominated by narrow- leaved snow tussock Chionochloa rigida ssp. rigida up to 30 months after a spring fire. Burning reduced the stature of tussocks and the size and density of tillers in the first growing season. After two growing seasons, tussock canopy development and tiller size remained below those found in the unburnt grassland nearby. New tillers and tussocks established following the prolific fire-induced flowering one year after burning. After the fire and sheep grazing, intertussock cover became progressively dominated by introduced grasses and herbs. While soil pH, moisture content, bulk density, surface litter and total nematodes showed significant treatment (burning) effects, these properties also showed significant year-to-year variation. The greatest increase in any nematode group was in Paratylenchus, a distinctive genus widespread in tussock grasslands and apparently responsive to environmental fluctuation and root development; its population was 100x and 29x greater in the burned area than in the control area 16 and 30 months after burning. Subject to detailed testing, populations of mites and collembola may provide relatively simple indicators of recovery of ecosystem function of such grasslands after burning.