Skip to main content Accessibility help

Repeated Selective Cutting Controls Neotropical Bracken (Pteridium arachnoideum) and Restores Abandoned Pastures

  • Karla Aguilar-Dorantes (a1), Klaus Mehltreter (a1), Heike Vibrans (a2), Martin Mata-Rosas (a3) and Valentín A. Esqueda-Esquivel (a4)...


Neotropical bracken fern invades disturbed forests and burned and abandoned pastures in Latin America, inhibiting the growth of associated vegetation and altering community structure. Cutting of all aboveground vegetation every 6 to 12 mo has proven to be inefficient as a control method. We studied the impact of selective cutting of bracken every 2 mo, shading, and a combination of cutting + shading during 14 mo in a bracken-dominated, abandoned pasture in Veracruz, Mexico. At the end of the experiment, cutting with or without shading drastically reduced bracken cover from >90% to less than 1%, decreased leaf number from 18 to fewer than two leaves per m2, and depleted bracken leaf biomass. The significant reduction of bracken was correlated with a significant 3.9- to 5.7-fold increase in richness of other plant species. Cutting without shading was the only treatment that significantly reduced rhizome biomass to less than 62% of control plots, whereas cutting + shading was the only treatment to promote a significant increase in both cover and shoot biomass of successional plant species. Selective cutting of P. arachnoideum repeated every 2 mo was more successful than nonselective cuttings repeated at longer intervals, because it removed newly emerging leaves before their complete expansion and supported the recovery and reestablishment of other plant species, which may help to control bracken. Although costs for the first year of selective cutting were twice as much as for nonselective cutting, it may prove less expensive and more efficient than nonselective cutting in the long term.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author's E-mail:


Hide All
Alonso-Amelot, ME, Rodolfo-Baechler, S (1996) Comparative spatial distribution, size, biomass and growth rate of two varieties of bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum L. Kuhn) in a neotropical montane habitat. Vegetatio 125:137147
Atkinson, TP (1989) Seasonal and altitudinal variation in Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn: frond and stand types. New Phytol 113:359365
Baylis, A (2000) Why glyphosate is a global herbicide: strengths, weaknesses and prospects. Pest Manag Sci 56:299308
Beck, E, Hartig, K, Roos, K, Preußig, M, Nebel, M (2008) Permanent removal of the forest: Construction of roads and power supply lines. Pages 361370 in Beck, K, Hartig, K, Roos, M, Preußig, M, Nebel, N, eds. Gradients in a tropical mountain ecosystem of Ecuador. Ecological Studies 198. Berlin Springer-Verlag
Clarke, KR, Gorley, RN (2001) PRIMER v5: User Manual/Tutorial. Plymouth PRIMER-E
Clarke, KR, Warwick, RM, eds (2001) Change in marine communities: an approach to statistical analysis and interpretation. 2nd edn. Plymouth PRIMER-E
Comisión Nacional del Agua (2013) Accessed May 15, 2013
Diario Oficial de la Federación (2011) Acuerdo mediante el cual se emiten los costos de referencia para reforestación o restauración y su mantenimiento para compensación ambiental por cambio de uso de suelo en terrenos forestales y la metodología para su estimación. Accessed January 13, 2014
Dolling, AHU (1996) Interference on bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn) with Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and Norway spruce (Picea abies L. Karst.) seedling establishment. Forest Ecol Manag 88:227235
Douterlungne, D, Levy-Tacher, SI, Golicher, DJ, Dañobeytia, FR (2010) Applying indigenous knowledge to the restoration of degraded tropical rain forest clearings dominated by bracken fern. Restor Ecol 18:322329
Evans, WC, Patel, MC, Kooby, Y (1982) Acute bracken poisoning in homogastric and ruminant animals. P Roy Soc Edin 81:2964
García Arroyo, R (2013) Epidemiología de la mortalidad por intoxicación en el ganado bovino asegurado en España (2000–2005). Ph.D Dissertation. Cáceres, Extremadura Universidad de Extremadura, Facultad de Veterinaria. 141 p
Geissert, D, Ibáñez, A (2008) Calidad y ambiente físico-químico de los suelos. Pages 213221 in Manson, RH, Hernández-Ortiz, V, Gallina, S, Mehltreter, K, eds. Agroecosistemas cafetaleros de Veracruz: biodiversidad, manejo y conservación. Mexico Instituto de Ecología, A.C. and Instituto Nacional de Ecología
Ghorbani, J, Le Duc, MG, McAllister, HA, Pakeman, RJ, Marrs, R (2007) Effects of experimental restoration on the diaspore bank of an upland moor degraded by Pteridium aquilinum invasion. Land Degrad Dev 18:659669
Gliessman, SR (1976) Allelopathy in a broad spectrum of environments as illustrated by bracken. Bot J Linn Soc 73:95104
Gliessman, SR, Muller, CH (1978) The allelopathic mechanisms of dominance in bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) in Southern California. J Chem Ecol 4:337362
Hartig, K, Beck, E (2003) The bracken fern (Pteridium arachnoideum (Kaulf.) Maxon) dilemma in the Andes of Southern Ecuador. Ecotropica 9:313
[INEGI] Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia (2012) Anuario estadístico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos 2012. México. 797 p. Accessed August 18, 2013.
IUSS Working Group WRB (2007) World reference base for soil resources 2006. First update 2007. World soil resources reports. No. 103. Rome FAO
Le Duc, MG, Pakeman, RJ, Marrs, RH (2003) Changes in the rhizome system of bracken subjected to long-term experimental treatment. J Appl Ecol 40:508522
Lowday, JE (1986) A comparison of the effects of cutting with those of the herbicide asulam on the control of bracken. Pages 359367 in Smith, RT, Taylor, JA, eds. Bracken: ecology, land use and control technology. UK Parthenon
Måren, IE, Vandvik, V, Ekelund, K (2008) Restoration of bracken-invaded Calluna vulgaris heathlands: effects on vegetation dynamics and non-target species. Biol Conserv 141:10321042
Marrs, RH, Johnson, SW, Le Duc, MG (1998) Control of bracken and restoration of heathland. VI. The responses of bracken fronds to 18 years of continued bracken control or 6 years of control followed by recovery. J Appl Ecol 35:479490
Marrs, RH, Le Duc, MG, Mitchell, RJ, Goddard, D, Paterson, S, Pakeman, RJ (2000) The ecology of bracken: its role in succession and implications for control. Ann Bot 85:315
Marrs, RH, Watt, AS (2006) Biological flora of the British Isles: Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn. J Ecol 94:12721321
Mickel, JT, Smith, AR (2004) The pteridophytes of Mexico. New York The New York Botanical Garden
Oinonen, E (1967) The correlation between the size of Finnish bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn) clones and certain periods of site history. Acta For Fenn 83:151
Pakeman, RJ, Hill, MO, Marrs, RH (1995) Modelling vegetation succession after bracken control. J Environ Manage 43:2939
Pakeman, RJ, Le Duc, MG, Marrs, RH (2000) Bracken distribution in Great Britain: strategies for its control and the sustainable management of marginal land. Ann Bot 85:3746
Pakeman, RJ, Hulme, TD, Torvell, L, Fisher, JM (2002) Rehabilitation of degraded dry heather (Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull) moorland by controlled sheep grazing. Biol Conserv 114:389400
Ramírez-Trejo, MR, Pérez-García, B, Pérez-Salicrup, DR, Orozco-Segovia, A (2010) Effect of fire on the germination of spores of Pteridium caudatum, an invasive fern. J Trop Ecol 26:457465
Robinson, RC, Sheffield, E, Sharpe, JM (2010) Problem ferns: their impact and management. Pages 255323 in Mehltreter, K, Walker, LR, Sharpe, JM, eds. Fern Ecology. UK Cambridge University Press
Roos, K, Rollenbeck, R, Peters, T, Bendix, J, Beck, E (2010) Growth of tropical bracken (Pteridium arachnoideum): response to weather variations and burning. Invasive Plant Sci Manage 3:402411
Roos, K, Rödel, HG, Beck, E (2011) Short- and long-term effects of weed control on pastures infested with Pteridium arachnoideum and an attempt to regenerate abandoned pastures in South Ecuador. Weed Res 51:165176
Royo, AA, Collins, R, Adams, MB, Kirschbaum, C, Carson, WP (2010) Pervasive interactions between ungulate browsers and disturbance regimes promote temperate forest herbaceous diversity. Ecology 91:93105
Sierra Posada, JO (2005) Fundamentos para el establecimiento de pasturas y cultivos forrajeros. Medellín, Colombia Editorial de la Universidad de Antioquia
Silva-Matos, DM, Belinato, TA (2010) Interference of Pteridium arachnoideum (Kaulf.) Maxon. (Dennstaedtiaceae) on the establishment of rainforest trees. Braz J Biol 70:311316
Stewart, G, Cox, E, Le Duc, MG, Pakeman, RJ, Pullin, A, Marrs, RH (2008) Control of Pteridium aquilinum: meta-analysis of a multi-site study in the UK. Ann Bot 101:957970
Taylor, JA (1986) The bracken problem: a local hazard and global issue. Pages 2142 in Smith, RT, Taylor, JA, eds. Bracken: ecology, land use and control technology. UK Parthenon
Wang, HH, Chen, BJ, Hsu, LM, Cheng, YM, Liou, YJ, Wang, CY (2011) Allelopathic effects of bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn) in Taiwan. Allelop J 27:97110
Williams, GH, Foley, A (1976) Seasonal variations in the carbohydrate content of bracken. Bot J Linn Soc 73:8793
Wilson, JB (1988) Shoot competition and root competition. J Appl Ecol 25:279296
Wilson, D, Donaldson, LJ, Sepai, O (1998) Should we be frightened of bracken? A review of the evidence. J Epidemiol Commun H 52:812817


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Aguilar-Dorantes supplementary material
Appendix S1

 Word (18 KB)
18 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed