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Protocols in ecological and environmental plant physiology

 

Article     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 62(4)

Sustained impacts of a hiking trail on changing Windswept Feldmark vegetation in the Australian Alps

Mark Ballantyne A C , Catherine M. Pickering A , Keith L. McDougall B and Genevieve T. Wright B

A Environmental Futures Centre, School of Environment, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Qld 4222, Australia.
B Office of Environment and Heritage, PO Box 773, Queanbeyan, NSW 2620, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: m.ballantyne@griffith.edu.au

Australian Journal of Botany 62(4) 263-275 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT14114
Submitted: 21 May 2014  Accepted: 2 June 2014   Published: 20 August 2014


 
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Abstract

Damage to vegetation from tourism and recreation includes the impacts of hiking trails, which may favour trampling-tolerant plants over those that are more sensitive to this type of disturbance. To assess how continued use of a hiking trail coupled with changes in local climate affect a rare Australian alpine plant community, we compared plant composition at different distances from a trail in 2013 during wetter conditions with that 10 years prior during a drought in 2003. In both years, only a few trampling-tolerant graminoids and cushion plants were found on the trail surface, which runs along the ridgeline. Species richness and cover in both surveys generally increased with distance from the trail, but there were differences between the windward and leeward sides of the trail. This included increased abundance of some species but continued disruption of shrub succession on the leeward side of the trail. There was an overall increase in species richness between the two surveys, and changes in the abundance of many species independent of trampling effects, possibly reflecting the more favourable/wetter conditions for plant growth in 2013. These results suggest that changes in climatic conditions can affect community composition, but that this has not negated the impact of the hiking trail on this rare community. With average temperatures increasing, and snow cover declining in the Australian Alps, it is likely that there will be even more changes in the Windswept Feldmark, including the potential colonisation of these ridges by more competitive species, such as graminoids, at the expense of the dominant shrub and some herbs that are already adversely affected by trampling. Longer term monitoring of this rare community is imperative to better understand community processes in relation to the impacts of trail use and climate change. Management options to reduce these impacts are discussed.

Additional keywords: climate change, shrubs, threatened communities, tourism impacts.


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