New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2005) 29(2): 261- 269

Vegetation recovery in rural kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) forest fragments in the Waikato region, New Zealand, following retirement from grazing

Research Article
Mark C. Smale 1,*
Craig W. Ross 2
Gregory C. Arnold 2
  1. Landcare Research New Zealand, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research New Zealand, Private Bag 11052, Palmerston North, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Vegetation was sampled in kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides)-dominant forest fragments having different recovery periods since grazing ceased in the Waikato region, North Island, New Zealand. Changes in vegetation were modeled against recovery periods ranging from 0–74 y and in relation to position within fragment (edge or interior). Indigenous plant species richness increased and adventive plant species (mostly pasture herbs) richness declined with increasing recovery period; small tree and sapling density and seedling ground cover increased. Fragment edges had higher adventive species richness, lower basal area, more established seedlings, lower litter cover and higher grass ground cover, than interior plots. Some indigenous species (e.g. Laurelia novaezealandiae and Myrsine australis) increased with recovery period while some adventive species (e.g. Solanum pseudocapsicum) declined. The relative basal area of Alectryon excelsus increased significantly with recovery period at edges, and that of Melicytus ramiflorus everywhere. Twenty years represents a turning point in the recovery period, with the end of the loss phase of adventive pasture species, the start of the re-establishment phase of indigenous ground layer and understorey species, and significant recovery of population structures of major species. In relatively non-weedy rural environments, retirement from grazing may be sufficient to ensure a return to near-natural states in 40–50 y.