New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2007) 31(1): 22- 38

Secondary forest succession differs through naturalised gorse and native kānuka near Wellington and Nelson

Research Article
Jon J. Sullivan 1,*
Peter A. Williams 2
Susan M. Timmins 3
  1. Bio-Protection and Ecology Division, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, Private Bag 6, Nelson, New Zealand
  3. Department of Conservation Science & Research, PO Box 10-420, Wellington, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

The dominant native woody species forming early-successional vegetation on formerly forested sites in lowland New Zealand were kānuka (Kunzea ericoides) and mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) (Myrtaceae). These have been replaced extensively by gorse (Ulex europaeus, Fabaceae), a naturalised species in New Zealand. Because gorse typically gives way to native broadleaved (angiosperm) forest in about 30 years, it is often considered desirable for facilitating native forest restoration. We tested three hypotheses, derived from the New Zealand literature, on gorse and kānuka: (1) kānuka stands have a different species composition and greater species richness than gorse stands at comparable successional stages; (2) differences between gorse and kānuka stands do not lessen over time; and (3) several native plant taxa are absent from or less common in gorse than in kānuka stands. We sampled 48 scrub or low-forest sites in two regions, Wellington and Nelson. Sites were classified into one of four predefined categories – young gorse, young kānuka, old gorse, old kānuka – based on canopy height of the succession and the dominant early-successional woody species. Few characteristics of the sites and surrounding landscapes differed significantly among site categories, and none consistently across regions. The vegetation composition of gorse and kānuka and their immediate successors differed in both regions, mainly in native woody species. Species richness was often lower in gorse and there were fewer smallleaved shrubs and orchids in gorse. Persistent differences at the older sites suggest the successional trajectories will not converge in the immediate future; gorse leads to different forest from that developed through kānuka. Gorse-dominated succession is therefore not a direct substitute for native successions. We suggest areas of early native succession should be preserved, and initiated in landscapes where successions are dominated by gorse or other naturalised shrubs.