Buffel grass [Cenchrus ciliaris L. syn. Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link] is an exotic species that has been widely planted in Australian arid and semi-arid grazing lands, and has become an important resource for livestock. It establishes readily and has expanded into such a diversity of land types beyond grazing lands that it is also regarded as a serious environmental weed. Although there is an abundance of literature on the production benefits of buffel grass, there is relatively little about its influence on native flora and fauna in arid Australia, particularly when its cover levels are low. This study attempted to clarify the influence of buffel grass and environmental patterns on the occurrence of ground vegetation, birds, reptiles and ants in a gneissic hill habitat in central Australia where buffel grass has encroached. Despite poor conditions for growth, we were able to distinguish the influence of buffel grass from that of other variables like overstorey cover, soil pH, fire and transect orientation. Cover of buffel grass did not exceed ~20% but it still accounted for a small amount of the variation in the composition of ground vegetation and birds, and of the ‘ground-dwelling’ bird guild and the ‘hot climate specialist’ functional group of ants. There were insufficient reptiles for analysis. We conclude that, even when cover is low, buffel grass can have a detectable influence on some aspects of community dynamics. Given the evidence from published literature and from this study, we expect the influence of buffel grass on the diversity of native flora and fauna to increase, particularly if buffel grass expands into land types previously thought unsuited to its environmental needs.
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