The decline of traditional pastoral systems has highlighted the problem of managing shrub encroachment on successional shrublands in the Mediterranean region, especially in marginal habitats. A long-term study of the response of ecosystem dynamics to phosphate amelioration and shrub control was initiated in 1988 on an area of phosphorus deficient terra rossa, dominated by dwarf shrubs that had been burnt in the summer of that year. The treatments were imposed in a replicated factorial design once at the beginning of the study. The area was previously grazed yearlong by goats, but during the experiment beef cattle grazed the area during the summer of each year. Without herbicide control, shrub cover reached its preburn level within 5 years, but with shrub control after 17 years, it had not yet reached the preburn level. The average shrub cover over the whole experimental period was 41.9%–49.1% without herbicide and 13.5%–24.4% with (P < 0.0001, SE of the difference = 3.99). The effect of phosphate application on shrub cover was not significant, but cover of herbaceous vegetation increased (P < 0.0016, SE of difference = 5.03). A “state and transition” scheme was constructed that defines the interventions necessary to buffer any one of the states against the pressures of successional processes. Vegetation states were defined by the dominance of either herbaceous vegetation or one of two spiny shrub species, Prickly burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum, Rosaceae) and Calicotome villosa (Fabaceae). The timing and scale of the interventions depend largely on landscape management objectives and on available economic and logistic resources. We conclude that 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 than a landscape dominated by the undisturbed successional shrub thickets.
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Vol. 60 • No. 5