New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2000) 24(2): 123- 137

Post-pastoral changes in composition and guilds in a semi-arid conservation area, Central Otago, New Zealand

Research Article
Susan Walker  
  1. Botany Department, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

Changes in the vegetation of Flat Top Hill, a highly modified conservation area in semi;arid Central Otago, New Zealand, are described four years after the cessation of sheep and rabbit grazing. Unusually moist weather conditions coincide with the four-year period of change in response to the cessation of grazing. Between 1993 and 1997, the average richness and diversity (H') of species increased, and the average proportion of native species decreased significantly. The vegetation was significantly richer in exotic annual and perennial grass species, exotic perennial forbs, exotic woody species and native tussock grasses in 1997 than in 1993. Eight response guilds of species are identified. Most "remnant" native shrubs and forbs were stable, in that they remained restricted to local refugia and showed little change in local frequency. However, taller native grass species increased, some locally, and others over wide environmental ranges. Rare native annual forbs and several native perennial species from "induced" xeric communities decreased, and this may be a consequence of competition from exotic perennial grasses in the absence of grazing. The invasive exotic herb Sedum acre decreased in abundance between 1993 and 1997, but several other prominent exotic species increased substantially in range and local frequency over a wide range of sites. Exotic woody species, and dense, sward-forming grasses are identified as potential threats to native vegetation recovery.