Original Research

Virgilia divaricata may facilitate forest expansion in the afrotemperate forests of the southern Cape, South Africa

Corli Coetsee, Benjamin J. Wigley
Koedoe | Vol 55, No 1 | a1128 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v55i1.1128 | © 2013 Corli Coetsee, Benjamin J. Wigley | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 November 2012 | Published: 15 July 2013

About the author(s)

Corli Coetsee, School of Natural Resource Management, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, George campus, South Africa
Benjamin J. Wigley, School of Natural Resource Management, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, George campus, South Africa

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Virgilia divaricata is a fast-growing nitrogen-fixing tree species often found on the margins of forest in the southern Cape of South Africa and is particularly abundant after fire. However, V. divaricatamay invade fynbos even in the absence of fire and it has been described as a forest precursor. We investigated whether V. divaricata enriches soil fertility after its invasion into fynbos areas adjacent to forests. We measured soil organic carbon and soil nutrients at four sites. At each site, three vegetation types (forest, V. divaricata and fynbos) were examined on the same soil type and at the same elevation. Our results showed that, on average, soils taken from V. divaricata stands had higher nitrogen and phosphorus values than the adjacent fynbos soils, with either lower or similar values to the adjacent forest soils. Higher soil fertility under V. divaricata, together with their shading effect, may create conditions favourable for shade-loving forest species dependent on an efficient nutrient cycle in the topsoil layers, and less favourable for shade-hating fynbos species, which are generally adapted to low soil fertility. We suggest that the restoration of the nutrient cycle found in association with forest may be accelerated under V. divaricata compared with other forest precursor species, which has important consequences for the use of V. divaricata in ecosystem restoration.

Conservation implications: Alien plantations in the Outeniqua Mountains are being phased out and the areas are being incorporated into the Garden Route National Park. Fynbos areas are increasingly being invaded by forest and thicket species owing to fire suppression in lower-lying areas. An improved understanding of the fynbos–forest boundary dynamics will aid in efficient management and restoration of these ecosystems.


afrotemperate forest, fire, nitrogen, soils, Virgilia divaricata


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