Rapid short-tussock grassland decline with and without grazing, Marlborough, New Zealand
- Upland Research, New Renwick Road, RD2, Blenheim 7272, New Zealand
- Statistecol Consultants, 45 Beveridge St, City Central, Christchurch, New Zealand
Species abundance, species richness, and ground cover were measured over 10 years on nine paired grazed and exclosure plots in short-tussock grassland in the early stages of invasion by Hieracium species. With and without grazing, H. pilosella and H. caespitosum increased markedly and H. lepidulum increased locally. In contrast, 50% of all other common species and species groups, and total, native, and exotic species richness declined significantly. Exclusion increased or had no effect on rates of increase in Hieracium species and rates of decline in short tussocks, and did not reduce rates of decline in other species. Exclusion had no effect on decline in native species richness, but mainly accelerated declines in total and exotic richness. Declines in 13 key vegetation variables were significantly predicted by increase in Hieracium abundance, suggesting competitive exclusion. With or without grazing, Hieracium species will become more dominant and other species will continue to decline. The effects of large herbivores on plant species diversity can often be predicted from site productivity. Our results indicate the need also to account for species origin, spatial scale, time, and exotic invasion.