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The Effects of Annual Harvesting on the Subsequent Phytomass and Species Composition of Grassland and Fernland: A Hong Kong Case

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Anthropogenic grasslands mixed with fern and shrubland, on scales from metres to kilometres, are widespread in tropical Southeast Asia, and especially in southern China and adjoining regions where harvesting for domestic fuel is a major factor in their maintenance. Baseline surveys in grassland and fernland in 1989–90 and resurveys in 2001 of three 6 × 20 m plots in Wong Chuk Yuen, Hong Kong, showed substantial change in species composition and total aboveground phytomass as a result of annual harvesting, with more pronounced change in the fernland.

Under harvesting pressure, the species composition of the grassland changed considerably, though the proportions of the various life-forms did not. Ischaemum spp. and Miscanthus floridulus increased whereas Themeda gigantea died out while the proportion of other grass species remained much the same. Under the same regime the species composition and life-forms of the fernland changed markedly. The proportion of Dicranopteris fern dropped substantially, though still comprising a third of the phytomass by 2001. The shrub Melastoma survived harvesting. A firebreak cut in the fernland became grassy under annual harvesting and remained grassy six years after cutting ceased. The annual harvests from the growth-years 1991–2000 showed a substantial though variable increase in total phytomass. Analyses relating harvested phytomass with various climatic parameters showed no significant correlations. Some possible reasons for this are suggested. Although annual harvesting was clearly sustainable over the ten years of observation, the question of continued sustainability on sites harvested for centuries, the situation in much of southern China and parts of upland mainland Southeast Asia, remains unresolved.
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Keywords: Hong Kong; fernland; grassland; phytomass harvesting; species composition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ecology & Biodiversity, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China 2: Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China 3: Department of Environmental Science, Zhongshan University, Guangzhou, China

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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