, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 171-182

The role of European marram grass in dune stabilization and succession near Cape Agulhas, South Africa

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Abstract

The coastline near the southern tip of Africa is characterized by large mobile dunes that are driven along wide beaches by strong winds throughout the year. This results in the blockage of the river mouths causing severe flooding of the low-lying farmland of the Agulhas Plain during the rainy winter season. Large parts of the driftsands were stabilized with the European dune pioneer species Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), which has proved highly invasive along the North American west coast. In order to establish the potential invasiveness ofA. arenaria in South African coastal dune systems and its role in the succession of a large stabilization area, studies were carried out on De Mond Nature Reverve. Using aerial photos, maps and planting records, the vegetation of sites of various ages were sampled. By means of this chronosequence of stands, there is clear evidence that succession takes place at De Mond. Four communities are distinguished, varying from recent plantings ofA. arenaria to mature dune thicket or dune fynbos (heath) vegetation. These relate to four different stages of succession,A. arenaria occurring in reduced abundance in the older communities. After 50 years, formerA. arenaria areas are usually covered by dense dune scrub and in some places even in asteraceous dune fynbos. Succession is most rapid in sheltered, moist dune slacks, butA. arenaria remains vigorous in conditions favourable for its growht, i.e. on exposed, steep dune slopes with strong sand movement.A. arenaria does not appear to spread unaidedly at De Mond and has been successfully used for temporary dune stabilization.