The role of seed dispersal, seed predation and drought in the restoration of Ngel Nyaki Forest, Nigeria.
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The restoration of degraded landscapes has become one of our most valuable tools for conservation, however there are many factors which can restrict natural regeneration and impede active restoration attempts. The purpose of this study was to investigate three key processes which commonly limit the establishment of forest tree species into abandoned pasture in tropical forests: i) dispersal limitation, ii) seed predation, and iii) competition from the grass sward.
Seed dispersal I identified 59 species of birds that were using the grassland habitat. Through 216 hours of focal tree observations I established that isolated trees in the grassland that had larger canopies, and those that were providing a food source (i.e. flowers or fruit) had significantly higher bird visitation rates and average stay lengths. I found evidence of the “perch effect” as patches of remnant trees encouraged more birds into areas of grassland, and the density of seedlings under tree canopies was significantly positively correlated with bird visitations. 95% of the seedlings found beneath tree canopies in grassland were of a different species to that of the tree canopy above them, demonstrating the dispersal of seeds from elsewhere into these microhabitats. 98% of these seedlings are grassland or forest edge species showing forest core species are still dispersal or microsite limited despite the effect of these trees.
Seed predation Removal rates of seeds from experimentally laid out seed piles varied among seed species, the habitat the pile was in, and the predator guild able to access the piles. Preliminary results indicate that these trends are driven by the ecology of the seed predator. Removal of seeds by vertebrates was highest in the core forest, while ant predation was constant across all habitats. Vertebrates removed the larger seeds (Entandrophragma angolense and Sterculia tragacantha) while ants preferred the smaller Celtis gomphophylla and Croton macrostachyus. Overall predation rates in grassland were lower than those in the forest, and the presence of remnant trees did not influence predation rates, a positive sign for regeneration and the survival of seeds dispersed into these areas.
Competition from the grass sward While the grass sward provides shade for seedlings of forest tree species it is also a harsh environment for them, as the grass competes with seedlings for water. Removing the grass and covering planted seedlings with artificial shading structures significantly increased both the survival and growth of these seedlings.
Recommendations From this study I was able to make recommendations for a low input restoration program at Ngel Nyaki. Planting seedlings in small „islands‟ takes advantage of the natural increase in dispersal of seeds under isolated trees, while low seed predation rates increase the chance of survival of these seeds to germination. Planting these seedlings under shade will lead to increases both their growth rates and their survival. Once the secondary forest develops, under-planting seedlings of core forest trees will introduce them to the system, as the natural establishment of these seeds appears to be limited in the current environment. This study has also served to remind us how little we know about this particular forest-grassland system, and has led to the development of ideas for further investigations into several more aspects of regeneration.