The role of brush encroachment in Mediterranean ecosystems: a review

In: Israel Journal of Plant Sciences
Zalmen Henkin Beef Cattle Section, Newe Ya‘ar Research Center, Department of Natural Resources, Agricultural Research Organization - Volcani Institute, P.O. Box 1021, Ramat Yishay 3009500, Israel

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Encroachment of woody plants into grasslands and subsequent brush management are among the most prominent changes occurring in arid and semiarid ecosystems over the past century. The reduced number of farms, the abandonment of marginal land and the decline of traditional farming practices have led to encroachment of the woody and shrubby components into grasslands. This phenomenon, specifically in the Mediterranean region, which is followed by a reduction in herbage production, biodiversity and increased fire risk, is generally considered an undesirable process. Sarcopoterium spinosum has had great success in the eastern Mediterranean as a colonizer and dominant bush species on a wide variety of sites and climatic conditions. In the Mediterranean dehesa, the high magnitude and intensity of shrub encroachment effects on pastures and on tree production were shown to be dependent on temporal variation. Accordingly, there are attempts to transform shrublands into grassland-woodland matrices by using different techniques. The main management interventions that are commonly used include grazing, woodcutting, shrub control with herbicides or by mechanical means, amelioration of plant mineral deficits in the soil, and fire. However, the effects of these various treatments on the shrubs under diverse environmental conditions were found to be largely context-specific. As such, the most efficient option for suppressing encroachment of shrubs is combining different interventions. Appropriate management of grazing, periodic control of the shrub component, and occasional soil nutrient amelioration can lead to the development of attractive open woodland with a productive herbaceous understory that provides a wider range of ecological services.

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