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Research article2009Peer reviewed

Interacting effects of grass height and herbivores on the establishment of an encroaching savanna shrub

Hagenah, Nicole; Munkert, Helena; Gerhardt, Karin; Olff, Han


Shrub encroachment is a widely observed problem in Southern African savannas. Although the effects of herbivory and grass height on woody species recruitment have been studied individually, little information exists about how these factors interact. In this study seeds and seedlings of the encroaching shrub Dichrostachys cinerea were planted in clipped and unclipped grass plots, with and without large herbivores present. Seed germination, seedling survival and seedling predation were monitored for 8 months. Germination started earlier in plots where herbivores were excluded. Overall, the earlier the seeds germinated, the longer the seedlings survived. Clipping positively affected the number of germinated seeds, seedling growth and survival but effects varied among herbivore exclusion treatments and sites. Invertebrates caused the majority of the seedling damage. We conclude the recruitment of D. cinerea is influenced by the interplay of grass height and herbivory. In this study, the presence of large herbivores early in the wet season, and the absence of simulated grazing later on, affected the regeneration of D. cinerea negatively. However, differences in effects among sites suggest that the mechanisms found here may work differently in other habitats.


Bush encroachment; Dichrostachys cinerea; Herbivory; Precipitation; Seed germination; Seedling survival

Published in

Plant Ecology
2009, Volume: 201, number: 2, pages: 553-566

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