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Rainfall and grazing: not the only barriers to arid-zone conifer recruitment

Zimmer, Heidi C., Florentine, Singarayer K., Enke, Rita, Westbrooke, Martin
Australian journal of botany 2017 v.65 no.2 pp. 109-119
Callitris glaucophylla, conifers, grazing intensity, habitats, herbivores, rabbits, rain, stand density, threatened species, trees, woodlands, New South Wales
An understanding of the drivers of infrequent recruitment is fundamental in managing for species persistence. Callitris glaucophylla Joy Thomps. & L.A.S. Johnson (white cypress-pine) is a slow-growing, long-lived conifer, with a distribution that extends across arid Australia. Arid populations of C. glaucophylla are endangered in New South Wales, and are characterised by infrequent recruitment. We examined recruitment patterns of C. glaucophylla in differential grazing exclosures (excluding rabbits, excluding large herbivores or excluding both) and in unfenced areas. More recruitment occurred in rabbit-proof exclosures, compared with nearby large herbivore and control exclosures, although some rabbit-proof exclosures recorded no recruitment. Increases in recruitment at several long-term exclosures were associated with wet periods, as was recruitment at some unfenced sites. Apart from grazing and rainfall, recruitment was related to mature tree size and stand density (probably because of their influence on seed availability). These endangered arid C. glaucophylla woodlands are all that remains of a once extensive distribution, and are habitat for a suite of threatened species. Reduction in grazing pressure, particularly from rabbits, is clearly critical to maintain recruitment in these remnant populations. Chances of recruitment appear to be enhanced in low-density stands, around large trees, and in dune blow outs – fencing should focus on these areas.