New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2004) 28(1): 125- 135

Restoration of mountain beech (Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides) forest after fire

Research Article
Nick Ledgard  
Murray Davis  
  1. Forest Research, P. O. Box 29 237, Fendalton, Christchurch, New Zealand

Fire occurs relatively frequently in beech (Nothofagus) forest in drought prone eastern areas of the South Island, New Zealand. Because beech is poorly adapted to fire, and is slow to regenerate, forest is normally replaced by scrub or grassland. Seeding was investigated as a means of restoring mountain beech (N. solandri var. cliffortioides) forest after fire destroyed 300 ha of forest at Mt. Thomas, Canterbury, in 1980. A mixture of mountain beech, Leptospermum scoparium and other small tree and shrub species was sown within a year of the fire in the presence and absence of pasture species as a cover crop, and fertiliser. Seeding of mountain beech and L. scoparium was successful, but other species were of limited success. Competition from pasture species inhibited establishment of all native species. Fertiliser increased L. scoparium plant numbers in the first year but had no other beneficial effect on establishment of native species. Leptospermum scoparium provided a dense shrub cover in plots where the native species were sown in the absence of pasture species, but mountain beech had begun to overtop the shrub canopy by 20 years after seeding. Browsing by insects or small animals in the first 2 years is suggested as the main cause of mortality in mountain beech. Mountain beech seeded at 1.4 kg/ha resulted in about 1800 saplings/ha at age 20. It is suggested that seeding the wider burn area more than 2 years after the fire would have been unsuccessful because of competition from herbaceous species, especially Agrostis capillaris, which rapidly invaded the burnt area. A strategy is outlined for establishing mountain beech over large areas when limited quantities of seed are available.