New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2008) 32(1): 57- 66

Long-term impacts of grazing on indigenous forest remnants on North Island hill country, New Zealand

Research Article
Mark C. Smale 1,3
Michael B. Dodd 2
Bruce R. Burns 1
Ian L. Power 2
  1. Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  2. AgResearch, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Small isolated patches of native forest surrounded by extensive pastoral grasslands, characteristic of many New Zealand rural landscapes, represent an important reservoir of lowland biodiversity. Improved management of them is a major focus of biodiversity conservation initiatives in New Zealand. We quantified the long-term impacts of grazing on indigenous forest remnants in hill country at Whatawhata, western Waikato, North Island. Structure and composition were compared between forest fragments grazed for >50 years and nearby ungrazed continuous forest. Grazed fragments had shorter and less shady canopies, sparser understoreys, tree populations with larger mean diameters, and ground layers with lower cover of litter and higher cover of vegetation and bare soil than continuous forest. Fragments also had lower indigenous-plant species richness, especially in sapling and seedling populations, and almost no palatable indigenous shrubs, terrestrial orchids, and ferns that require high humidity (e.g. Hymenophyllum spp.), but contained many indigenous and adventive herbaceous species. A transition appears to be occurring in grazed fragments from tall, long-lived trees like Beilschmiedia tawa and Dysoxylum spectabile to short and shorter-lived trees like Kunzea ericoides, Melicytus ramiflorus, and Dicksonia squarrosa. Because grazing inhibits most regeneration processes, unfenced remnants of conifer–broadleaved forest are unlikely to be maintained in grazed pasture in the long term.