Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Savannas after afforestation: assessment of herbaceous community responses to wildfire versus native tree planting.

Abstract

Afforestation and fire exclusion are pervasive threats to tropical savannas. In Brazil, laws limiting prescribed burning hinder the study of fire in the restoration of Cerrado plant communities. We took advantage of a 2017 wildfire to evaluate the potential for tree cutting and fire to promote the passive restoration of savanna herbaceous plant communities after destruction by exotic tree plantations. We sampled a burned pine plantation (Burned Plantation); a former plantation that was harvested and burned (Harvested & Burned); an unburned former plantation that was harvested, planted with native trees, and treated with herbicide to control invasive grasses (Native Tree Planting); and two old-growth savannas which served as reference communities. Our results confirm that herbaceous plant communities on post-afforestation sites are very different from old-growth savannas. Among post-afforestation sites, Harvested & Burned herbaceous communities were modestly more similar in composition to old-growth savannas, had slightly higher richness of savanna plants (3.8 species per 50-m2), and supported the greatest cover of native herbaceous plants (56%). These positive trends in herbaceous community recovery would be missed in assessments of tree cover: whereas canopy cover in the Harvested & Burned site was 6% (less than typical of savannas of the Cerrado), the Burned Plantation and Native Tree Planting supported 34% and 19% cover, respectively. By focusing on savanna herbaceous plants, these results highlight that tree cutting and fire, not simply tree planting and fire exclusion, should receive greater attention in efforts to restore savannas of the Cerrado.