Article

The habitat and management of hairy jointgrass (Arthraxon hispidus, Poaceae) on the north coast of New South Wales, Australia

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Abstract

Ecological information about threatened species is required to guide strategic management approaches for effective biodiversity conservation in Australia. Arthraxon hispidus (hairy jointgrass) is a listed threatened species in New South Wales (NSW), but there is limited information on its habitat preferences and native vegetation associations, as well as the impact of historical and ongoing anthropogenic disturbance on its distribution and abundance. In the present study, populations of A. hispidus on the north coast of NSW were surveyed to investigate the habitat characteristics associated with various occurrences of the species. Its preferred habitat was found to be dense ground-cover formations in high-moisture, low-canopy conditions. Cover was highest in moisture-associated assemblages in and around wetlands, drainage lines and groundwater seepages, often in association with native grasses, sedges and herbs. These findings suggest that naturally open freshwater wetland communities comprise the most plausible native habitat niches for A. hispidus populations on the north coast of NSW. A. hispidus also occurs widely among introduced pastures and weeds in previously forested areas, demonstrating the species’ potential to exploit derived habitat. Results indicate that, although ongoing disturbance continues to promote A. hispidus in these exotic-dominated landscapes where historical clearing has created potential habitat opportunities, anthropogenic disturbance (slashing or cattle grazing) is not necessary to sustain A. hispidus within native-dominated wetland communities. Findings suggest more scope for integrated management of A. hispidus within broader native vegetation conservation strategies rather than a single species approach.

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... Makino (hairy jointgrass) is designated as vulnerable in New South Wales, under both state and federal legislation in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. The species has a restricted distribution in eastern Australia and has been listed as rare (Briggs and Leigh 1996), although it occurs within many moist pastures, swampy grasslands and various wetland formations in north coast NSW (White et al. 2019(White et al. , 2020. Slashing, grazing, and fire have all been described as threats to its habitat and conservation (Leigh et al. 1984;Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2008; NSW Office of Environment and Heritage 2018); however, the ecological mechanisms of these threatening processes are not well documented for A. hispidus, and there are uncertainties about the effects of disturbance on the species. ...
... One possibility is that that pre-European fire regimes played a role in sustaining populations of A. hispidus within native vegetation communities. Pockets of treeless swampy grasslands, which are likely to have provided suitable A. hispidus habitat (White et al. 2019), have long existed within the Big Scrub rainforest of north coast NSW (Boyd et al. 1999;Stubbs 2001), and it is possible that Aboriginal fire management played a role in their maintenance (Gammage 2011;Fensham 2019). Fire is recognised as an important ecosystem process within wetland and grassland vegetation communities in Australia and globally (Morgan and Lunt 1999;Bateman and Johnson 2011;Flores et al. 2011;Kimura and Tsuyuzaki 2011;Baker and Catterall 2016), and is considered integral to the conservation of some threatened plant species (Coates et al. 2006;Candeias and Warren 2016). ...
... Although A. hispidus recruitment is clearly firepromoted and responds positively to reduced vegetation cover, it is not always entirely excluded by a lack of disturbance. It is possible that as a wetland-associated species (White et al. 2019) A. hispidus is adapted to persist within native vegetation communities where the prolonged dominance of robust competitors is limited by intermittent or constant waterlogging stress that generalist species cannot tolerate (Lewis 1995;Casanova and Brock 2000;Leck and Brock 2000;Brose and Tielbörger 2005;Jackson and Colmer 2005). ...
Article
Disturbance plays an important role in plant life history strategies and has been documented as both enhancing and threatening populations of the vulnerable grass Arthraxon hispidus (Thunb.) Makino (hairy jointgrass) on the NSW north coast. Mechanical disturbance (slashing) is often used in A. hispidus conservation management, but many Australian plants are adapted to fire-based disturbance regimes. In this study we undertook a field burning experiment, along with soil seed bank sampling and germination trials, to explore how fire influences A. hispidus population dynamics in terms of plant recruitment and seed bank fluctuations. We found that winter burning strongly promoted A. hispidus spring germination without entirely depleting the residual seedbank. Although drought affected our field study population, burning also led to increased adult cover and substantial seed bank replenishment the following autumn. Exposure to a smoke treatment almost doubled the germination rate of A. hispidus seeds in nursery trials. Our study suggests that appropriate burning regimes can help to maintain this species in the landscape, by both structural and chemical mechanisms, by enhancing plant recruitment and facilitating seed bank accumulation. However, some A. hispidus plants also successfully germinated, established, and reproduced in unburnt plots during our study, suggesting that populations of this species can persist without disturbance in some habitats, such as native wetland communities. We found that A. hispidus has a multi-year seed longevity and a persistent seed bank, providing the species a degree of resilience in the event of unpredictable disturbance regimes and climatic anomalies.
... There is some uncertainty about the impacts of disturbance on the threatened plant Arthraxon hispidus (Poaceae) which is described as rare (Briggs & Leigh 1996) and listed as vulnerable at state and federal levels in NSW (Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016) and Australia (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). Arthraxon hispidus is a weakly trailing warm season annual grass which naturally occurs in moist grasslands and freshwater wetlands in north coast NSW (White et al. 2019;White et al. 2020a). Grazing, slashing and frequent fire are all listed as threats to the species (Leigh et al. 1984;NSW DPIE 2018;Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2008), as well as to the endangered wetland communities that form part of its habitat (Keith & Scott 2005;Hunter & Bell 2009;NSW DPIE 2020a;2020b;NSW DPIE 2017). ...
... On the other hand, there is evidence that A. hispidus may benefit from some degree of disturbance. In the north coast NSW region, the species often also occurs within modified habitats, such as cleared moist pastures and degraded wetlands now dominated by exotic perennial grasses and other introduced weeds (White et al. 2019). In these settings, there are anecdotal and documented cases of grazing and annual slashing causing the species to proliferate. ...
... Arthraxon hispidus shows traits of both a terrestrial damp species and an emergent amphibious fluctuation tolerator (Casanova 2011). It often occurs in damp terrestrial settings (White et al. 2019), and its distribution is closely associated with high landscape moisture (White et al. 2020b). It grows most prolifically in saturated soils and persists in shallow wetlands (White et al. 2020a). ...
Article
Ecological disturbances such as fire, grazing or mechanical cultivation can promote or suppress plant populations within vegetation communities. Therefore, such processes can threaten vulnerable species, or play a significant role in their conservation, so an understanding of a species’ ecological response to disturbance is foundational to threatened species management. Various types of anthropogenic disturbance are listed as threats to the vulnerable‐listed Arthraxon hispidus (Hairy Jointgrass) (Poaceae) in NSW; however, there is evidence that slashing, grazing and fire can stimulate the recruitment and establishment of this annual species in some circumstances. We undertook field experiments to investigate the effects of each of these disturbance regimes on A. hispidus populations over two growing seasons within modified wetlands/moist pastures in north coast NSW. We found that the application of fire in winter had a stronger promotional effect on A. hispidus recruitment than slashing, though both treatments increased its abundance and reduced the height and cover of surrounding vegetation, particularly exotic perennial grasses. Following initial establishment, A. hispidus declined under drought conditions during the study, and continuous grazing exacerbated this effect. Drought also increased the abundance of introduced species relative to native wetland species across the study sites. Results confirm that disturbance, particularly fire, can promote A. hispidus populations in some vegetation communities; however, climatic variation also plays a role in its population dynamics. Consideration of each of these factors and their potential interactions is important when developing conservation approaches for this threatened species.
... Within the NSW range of A. hispidus, there has been some difficulty in understanding its native habitat niche due to a lack of baseline ecological studies, and therefore in determining conservation approaches for the species. The NSW threatened species profile for A. hispidus describes it as a 'moisture and shade-loving grass, found in or on the edges of rainforest and in wet eucalypt forest, often near creeks or swamps' (NSW DPIE 2020), but the few documented examples of A. hispidus occurring among native vegetation communities in the region describe the species within non-forested wetlands including coastal floodplains, montane bogs and fens, and upland lagoons (Bell et al. 2008;Copeland 2015;White et al. 2019). Recent studies have indicated that its predominant habitat consists of dense grasses, sedges and herbs with little to no tree canopy, suggesting that native forests are unlikely to support the species (White et al. 2019(White et al. , 2020. ...
... The NSW threatened species profile for A. hispidus describes it as a 'moisture and shade-loving grass, found in or on the edges of rainforest and in wet eucalypt forest, often near creeks or swamps' (NSW DPIE 2020), but the few documented examples of A. hispidus occurring among native vegetation communities in the region describe the species within non-forested wetlands including coastal floodplains, montane bogs and fens, and upland lagoons (Bell et al. 2008;Copeland 2015;White et al. 2019). Recent studies have indicated that its predominant habitat consists of dense grasses, sedges and herbs with little to no tree canopy, suggesting that native forests are unlikely to support the species (White et al. 2019(White et al. , 2020. They determined that large tracts of suitable habitat are currently widespread in north-eastern NSW, but often occur within areas that have previously been cleared of native woody vegetation and are now dominated by exotic pastures or terrestrial weeds. ...
... As such, very few pristine examples remain, providing limited scope for understanding how a now-ubiquitous species such as A. hispidus may have fit into the original patterns of species composition in these assemblages. Although A. hispidus has not appeared in lists of characteristic species for these wetland types (Keith 2004;Keith and Scott 2005;Hunter and Bell 2009), it has been recorded growing in conjunction with many of those species listed, and has been observed in coastal floodplain wetlands, Carex sedgelands and montane peat swamps in north-eastern NSW (Copeland 2015;White et al. 2019White et al. , 2020. In the current study we aimed to undertake a more detailed field survey of an A. hispidus population recorded amongst a comparatively intact example of a threatened freshwater wetland (a Carex sedgeland) to establish whether such communities may represent important habitat for the species, with the potential to inform conservation planning for the species. ...
Article
Knowledge of a target species' habitat niche and physiological tolerances is important for conservation planning. However, these factors are not well understood for the threatened annual grass Arthraxon hispidus in New South Wales (NSW). Although the species is widespread in modified environments, recent studies have suggested that several threatened wetland types may represent original native habitat for the species, but documented field examples are lacking and the species' physiological response to soil moisture is not clear. We undertook a detailed survey of an A. hispidus population within a relatively intact native sedgeland community, and carried out a nursery experiment to test the hydrological tolerances of the species. We found that A. hispidus plants grew more vigorously in poorly drained or waterlogged conditions, suggesting that the species is well-adapted to overcome such stressors, possibly through the formation of adventitious roots, a trait shared by many wetland plants globally. Our field survey confirmed that the A. hispidus population within the study site occurred only within species assemblages that were characteristic of a freshwater wetland formation and that matched descriptions of a listed endangered ecological community. These findings provide a deeper insight into the species' habitat and threats, and offer a valuable management focus for conservation of A. hispidus as a component of threatened wetland communities in northeastern NSW.
... north facing slope = 1 = 337.5 -22.5 degrees aspect). information about species preferences (Benwell, 2012;White, Catterall, & Taffs, 2019). ...
... Indeed, during test site surveys in the current study, several novel populations of the species were encountered within relatively intact coastal freshwater wetlands, carex sedgelands and montane peatswamps. From a management perspective, A. hispidus conservation within these native wetland communities is likely to offer the greatest overall biodiversity benefits (White et al., 2019), but modelling indicates that less than 10 % of potential A. hispidus habitat in north coast NSW occurs within relatively unmodified environments (NSW DPIE, 2017). Future improvements in vegetation mapping for the study region (NSW DPIE, 2019) may present opportunities to refine the model to differentiate between areas of suitable habitat in derived and native vegetation communities, to better identify areas of conservation priority for the species. ...
... Additionally, the number of documented populations at the time was low (Briggs & Leigh, 1996;Leigh et al., 1984). Leading up to our study there had been increasing anecdotal evidence that A. hispidus may be relatively widespread and common within north coast NSW (NSW OEH, 2018a; Atlas of Living Australia, 2018; Stewart & McKinley, 2008), along with an emerging understanding of its habitat as being wetland-specific in native communities but relatively ubiquitous in modified environments (White et al., 2019). This mounting evidence suggested that the species was less rare than previously thought, a situation now quantitatively supported by our surveys and modelling. ...
Thesis
Conservation efforts to stem high rates of biodiversity loss are a growing challenge in Australia and globally. Efficient resource prioritisation and effective on-ground management, based on sound ecological knowledge, are critical for minimising threatened species extinctions. The annual grass Arthraxon hispidus (Hairy Jointgrass) is listed as Vulnerable in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland, as well as at a national level in Australia. In northern NSW, the species is often encountered during coastal development assessments, including in some modified environments degraded by clearing, grazing, and weed invasion. Management of the species has been encumbered by knowledge gaps about its habitat, distribution, threat status, population dynamics, and responses to disturbance. This study investigated A. hispidus ecology to inform species management recommendations and biodiversity conservation decisions in north-eastern NSW. Field surveys determined that the preferred habitat of A. hispidus comprised high-moisture, low-canopy conditions, typically found within various native freshwater wetland communities in NSW. It appears that clearing has enabled the species to occupy previously forested habitats, and ongoing disturbance, such as slashing or cattle grazing, assists it to compete with exotic pastures and weeds in these settings. The species was found to persist among native wetland species in the absence of recent anthropogenic disturbance. The distribution of A. hispidus within northern NSW was examined through prospective field sampling and habitat modelling. Key drivers of species presence included high topographic moisture and low woody vegetation density. Many new populations were mapped, confirming that the species is more common in northern NSW than previously thought. Predictions from the model suggested that the species was unlikely to meet threatened species listing criteria based on thresholds of abundance. The effect of fire on the population dynamics of A. hispidus was investigated within a mixed native/exotic coastal grassland/sedgeland. Winter burning increased spring recruitment and smoke was found to chemically stimulate seed germination. The cover of A. hispidus declined after the onset of severe drought during summer, however autumn cover and seed bank increase were still significantly greater in burnt compared to unburnt treatments. The species was found to have a persistent seed bank which could remain viable over at least two growing seasons. A population of A. hispidus was surveyed within a largely undisturbed Carex fen wetland on the New England Tablelands. The species was found to be an integral part of this endangered freshwater wetland community. An accompanying nursery experiment confirmed that A. hispidus can grow prolifically in poorly drained conditions, showing a tolerance to waterlogging. Further field experiments over two growing seasons compared A. hispidus abundance between burnt, slashed, and undisturbed conditions, as well as between grazed, and grazing exclusion conditions, in moist coastal grasslands/sedgelands modified by pasture grasses and other weeds. Both burning and (to a lesser extent) slashing in winter decreased the dominance of exotic perennial grasses and promoted A. hispidus during high rainfall conditions in spring of the first growing season. Severe drought occurred throughout the remainder of the study and the rainfall deficit was found to suppress A. hispidus cover and to increase the dominance of exotic perennial grasses over native wetland species. Under drought conditions, grazing had a detrimental effect on A. hispidus cover. There has been speculation about Arthraxon hispidus being a recent introduction to Australia, rather than a native species, due to its occurrence in modified habitats and its known weed status in the USA. A collaborative study, conducted adjacent to the research presented in this thesis, examined the genetic profile of A. hispidus specimens collected from both Australian and overseas populations. Results (presented in Appendix A) showed that A. hispidus has a relatively high genetic diversity in Australia, and there was no evidence to indicate that A. hispidus is an introduced invasive species in Australia. Overall, findings in this thesis suggest that A. hispidus originally occurred among native freshwater wetlands or moist grasslands which formed pockets within the once-forested landscapes of north-eastern NSW, where waterlogging, and possibly fire, played a role in maintaining suitable habitat or promoting the species. In the present day, boundaries of these habitats with the original surrounding forests have been lost due to historical clearing and weed invasion, and ongoing disturbance has likely helped A. hispidus to persist within these modified environments. Although A. hispidus is quite widespread within north-eastern NSW, many of its native wetland habitats are degraded and are listed as endangered ecological communities. Protection and restoration of these habitats (through weed management, protection from overgrazing and development, and reinstating appropriate ecological fire regimes) could provide a focus for the efficient management of A. hispidus while delivering overall biodiversity gains. The studies presented in this thesis represent the most comprehensive research into A. hispidus since its historical listing as a threatened species in the 1990s. This research has made significant contributions to knowledge about the species’ habitat, ecology and distribution, and these insights provide a sound basis for well-informed status reviews, efficient resource prioritisation decisions, and effective ongoing management planning for A. hispidus.
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Development of a mechanistic understanding and predictions of patterns of biodiversity is a central theme in ecology. One of the most influential theories, the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH), predicts maximum diversity at intermediate levels of disturbance frequency. The dynamic equilibrium model (DEM), an extension of the IDH, predicts that the level of productivity determines at what frequency of disturbance maximum diversity occurs. To test, and contrast, the predictions of these two models, a field experiment on marine hard-substratum assemblages was conducted with seven levels of disturbance frequency and three levels of nutrient availability. Consistent with the IDH, maximum diversity, measured as species richness, was observed at an intermediate frequency of disturbance. Despite documented effects on productivity, the relationship between disturbance and diversity was not altered by the nutrient treatments. Thus, in this system the DEM did not improve the understanding of patterns of diversity compared to the IDH. Furthermore, it is suggested that careful consideration of measurements and practical definitions of productivity in natural assemblages is necessary for a rigorous test of the DEM.
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The value of distinguishing between plant species regarded as ‘native’ and ‘alien’ has special relevance in the island continent of Australia, where European settlement was a springboard for human-assisted plant dispersal. The year of European settlement is proposed here as providing a distinction between a ‘native’ and ‘naturalised’ flora and is applied for the entire Australian flora of vascular plants. Herbarium collections and ecological criteria were employed to determine the status of 168 species of ambiguous origin. The date of 1788 proved to be a relatively straightforward criterion to assign native and naturalised status and the origin of only 27 plant species remains ambiguous. The dispersal of plants between continents is an ongoing process but European settlement of the Australian continent represents a very sharp biogeographic event for the Australian flora and provides a straightforward criterion for determining the ‘naturalised’ species.
Article
Targeted threatened species management is a central component of efforts to prevent species extinction. Despite the development of a range of management frameworks to improve conservation outcomes over the past decade, threatened species management is still commonly characterised as ad hoc. Although there are notable successes, many management programs are ineffective, with relatively few species experiencing improvements in their conservation status. We identify underlying factors that commonly lead to ineffective and inefficient management. Drawing attention to some of the key challenges, and suggesting ways forward, may lead to improved management effectiveness and better conservation outcomes. We highlight six key areas where improvements are needed: 1) stakeholder engagement and communication; 2) fostering strong leadership and the development of achievable long-term goals; 3) knowledge of target species' biology and threats, particularly focusing on filling knowledge gaps that impede management, while noting that in many cases there will be a need for conservation management to proceed initially despite knowledge gaps; 4) setting objectives with measurable outcomes; 5) strategic monitoring to evaluate management effectiveness; and 6) greater accountability for species declines and failure to recover species to ensure timely action and guard against complacency. We demonstrate the importance of these six key areas by providing examples of innovative approaches leading to successful species management. We also discuss overarching factors outside the realm of management influence that can help or impede conservation success. Clear recognition of factors that make species' management more straightforward - or more challenging - is important for setting realistic management objectives, outlining strategic action, and prioritising resources. We also highlight the need to more clearly demonstrate the benefit of current investment, and communicate that the risk of under-investment is species extinctions. Together, improvements in conservation practice, along with increased resource allocation and re-evaluation of the prioritisation of competing interests that threaten species, will help enhance conservation outcomes for threatened species.
Article
Aim Spring wetlands in arid regions of Australia provide habitat for many highly endemic organisms, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and plants, but these unique ecosystems have been under pressure since the arrival of Europeans about 250 years ago. Arguments over whether particular plant species are long‐term spring inhabitants or recent immigrants are confounding efforts to conserve spring flora. One such example is the swamp foxtail, Cenchrus purpurascens, a grass that is variably listed in the literature as being native to Australian wetlands or as being an introduced weedy species from Asia. Location Australia, China and Korea. Methods We use DNA sequences of the nuclear ITS and the chloroplast DNA regions trnL‐F and matK, complemented with newly designed simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers, to assess the native status of C. purpurascens in Australia and determine whether there is genetic differentiation among spring populations. Results We find that, although there has been gene flow between Asia and Australia in the geological past, the populations are now strongly differentiated: C. purpurascens has probably been present in Australia through the Pleistocene. In Australia, there is also strong genetic differentiation among populations from different springs, and between springs and non‐springs populations, indicating long‐term occupancy of some springs sites. Main conclusions Cenchrus purpurascens was present in Australia well before European colonization of the continent. The level of genetic differentiation among populations enhances the existing conservation values of Elizabeth Springs, Edgbaston, Doongmabulla and Carnarvon Gorge springs complexes within the Great Artesian Basin.
Article
Boggomosses are perennial mound springs in the Dawson River Valley, Queensland, an area subject to seasonal and often more prolonged drought. The results of a vegetation survey of the boggomosses are presented and assessed in relation to an impoundment proposed for the area. A classification of site-species data defined four boggomoss communities having distinct associations with soil texture and fertility, landscape position and possibly the age of springs. A measure of biogeographic significance was assigned to the plant species on the basis of rarity, isolation, affinity with the coastal flora and latitudinal limits. An impoundment at the maximum proposed height of 185 m would: a) inundate about 58% of the total number of springs; b) inundate 62% of significant community 1 springs that have high conservation significance; c) inundate all boggomoss populations of 26% of native plant species; d) inundate 30% of the boggomoss populations of the species that currently have two or more boggomoss populations to a level of one or less boggomoss populations; e) inundate all boggomoss populations of two out of 25 biogeographically significant species; f) inundate six out of 12 boggomoss populations of the vulnerable species Arthraxon hispidus; g) not inundate the single population of the vulnerable species Thelypteris confluens although the population would be within 1 m altitude of the maximum water height; h) not inundate the two populations of the endangered species Eriocaulon carsonii and Myriophyllum sp. (Aramac B. Wilson 110). Substantial lessening of impact on community 1 sites are achieved at dam water levels down to 177 m altitude and this trend is reflected in a progressive increase in the security of individual species. For example at the latter level, 88% of species would remain intact in more than one population and all known populations of Arthraxon would remain intact.
Article
Coastal floodplains are among the most modified landscapes in southeastern Australia. We used available vegetation survey data for coastal alluvium and other unconsolidated Quarternary sediments to construct a diagnosis of the major plant communities and document their flora. We used soil landscape maps and historical portion plans to gain an understanding of the distribution and environmental relationships of the communities. The flora of coastal floodplains includes more than 1000 native vascular plant taxa and more than 200 introduced taxa. The introduced flora is likely to be considerably larger, given that sampling was biased toward the least disturbed sites. Six major plant communities were diagnosed including a rainforest found north from the Shoalhaven floodplain, a mixed forest of eucalypts and melaleucas found north from Jervis Bay, a casuarina forest (sometimes with melaleuca) found throughout the coast, one open eucalypt forest found principally south from the Hunter region, another open eucalypt forest found north of the Hunter region and a complex of treeless wetland assemblages scattered throughout the coast. The extent and spatial arrangement of these communities varies between floodplains, with landform, rainfall, water regime and soil properties including moisture, fertility and salinity thought to be important factors mediating their distribution patterns. All six assemblages are listed as Endangered Ecological Communities under Threatened Species legislation. The coastal floodplain communities continue to be threatened by land clearing and crop conversion, fragmentation, changes to water flows, flooding and drainage, input of polluted runoff, weed invasion, activation of acid sulphate soils, climate change and degradation through rubbish dumping and other physical disturbances.
Article
Of the 73 most common species in an Israeli grassland, 49 showed responses to grazing by cattle that were largely consistent over sites, being either significantly more abundant on the more protected side, significantly more abundant on the more grazed side, or not significantly different. The remaining 24 species were inconsistent, being significantly more abundant on the protected side in some sites and on the grazed side in others. Of the inconsistent species, 14 showed a pattern of responses over sites that could be explained by a unimodal response to grazing intensity, with an optimum at intensities between the extremes of complete protection and very heavy continuous grazing. Perennial species with long growing seasons were somewhat more frequent among protection increasers, and their total cover greater in protected grassland. Grazing responses was strongly and significantly associated with plant growths form: protection increasers were mostly tall erect plants; grazing increasers mostly small, prostrate or rosette plants; and species with intermediate responses mostly erect plants of medium height. Ungrazed grassland was dominated (60-80% cover) by tall perennials and tall, annual grasses. Under light to moderate grazing their cover decreased to the benefit of annuals of a wide range of growth forms and families; of those, under heavy grazing, small and prostrate annuals, rosette crucifers and thistles remained abundant. Responses to grazing can be explained best by the opening of establishment gaps in the closed sward of foliage and mulch maintained by the dominants. At moderate to heavy grazing the vertical differential defoliation gradient imposed by cattle, particularly early in the growing season, becomes the major mechanism of grassland change. -from Authors
Article
A feature of the pre-European landscape of the sub-tropical Richmond River district of north-eastern New South Wales was a large expanse of rainforest known as the Big Scrub. In and around the Big Scrub were small patches of grassland and grassy open-forest, known locally as 'grasses'. These were often given individual names, which indicated their importance in the early timber-based economy of this generally grassless district for camping and depasturing working stock. Historical records enable a reconstruction of the distribution of 56 named 'grasses', and also allow some inferences to be made about their botany and ecology. The 'grasses' appear to be natural features of the landscape, mainly relict areas following invasion of the late Pleistocene open-forest vegetation by rainforest, following sea level rise, during the Holocene. A toponymic study of the use of the term 'grass' in the Richmond River district is also included.
Article
Against a global backdrop of rapid environmental change, conserving biodiversity poses one of the biggest and most important challenges to society. For this reason, systems of nature reserves have never been more important. Protected areas are under threat in many parts of the world (Mascia & Pailler 2011), but the weakening of protected areas in a rich, developed country with a global reputation for conservation leadership (Harrison 2006) is particularly alarming (Ritchie 2013). Consequently, we are concerned about the recent spate of substantial policy, legislative, and management changes being made by three of six Australian state governments for exploitative uses of national parks—actions that could affect much of Australia and have negative effects on biodiversity.
Article
World governments have committed to halting human-induced extinctions and safeguarding important sites for biodiversity by 2020, but the financial costs of meeting these targets are largely unknown. We estimate the cost of reducing the extinction risk of all globally threatened bird species (by ≥1 International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List category) to be U.S. $0.875 to $1.23 billion annually over the next decade, of which 12% is currently funded. Incorporating threatened nonavian species increases this total to U.S. $3.41 to $4.76 billion annually. We estimate that protecting and effectively managing all terrestrial sites of global avian conservation significance (11,731 Important Bird Areas) would cost U.S. $65.1 billion annually. Adding sites for other taxa increases this to U.S. $76.1 billion annually. Meeting these targets will require conservation funding to increase by at least an order of magnitude.
Article
A combination of field surveys and seed-bank measurements were used to describe the macrophytic vegetation of intermittent wetlands on the Riverine Plain, in New South Wales. Three habitat types were sampled, representing wetland vegetation subjected to varying intensities of exogenous (human-induced) disturbance: swamps (least disturbed), roadside table drains (moderately disturbed), and rice crops (highly disturbed). Forty-two plant species were common to all three habitats and 36 species occurred in two of the three habitats. Of the 82 species that were restricted to a single habitat type, 33 were recorded for swamps, 19 for roadsides and 30 for rice fields.Species-richness (number of species per 50 m2) was found to be significantly lower in rice fields compared with either roadsides or swamps, which were not significantly different. Richness of native vascular species differed significantly among all habitat types, with swamps > roadsides > rice fields. Richness of exotic species also differed: roadsides > rice fields > swamps. Although the least disturbed habitat (swamps) supported the least number of exotic species, there was no further evidence of a positive relationship between degree of disturbance and degree of invasion. The results provided some support for the hypothesis that maximum species-richness occurs under conditions of moderate disturbance.A small negative correlation (r=−0.178, P < 0.01) was found between the number of exotic species and the number of native species occurring at a site. This suggests that, in this case, species-richness is not an important factor in the resistance of vegetation to invasion by exotic species. The vegetation of intermittent wetlands appears to have a relatively high degree of resistance to invasion. This is attributed to the high level of endogenous disturbance to which the native vegetation is adapted.
Article
Understanding hydrologic requirements of native and introduced species is critical to sustaining native plant communities in wetlands of disturbed landscapes. We examined plant assemblages, and 31 of the most common species comprising them, from emergent wetlands in an urbanizing area of the Pacific Northwest, USA, in relation to in situ, fine-scale hydrology. Percent cover by plant species was estimated in 2208 1-m2 plots across 43 sites, with water depth at time of vegetation sampling measured in 432 plots. Three years of bi-weekly hydrologic data from each of the 43 sites were used to estimate mean surface water level and mean absolute difference (MAD) in surface water level for every plot. Nine assemblages of plant species that co-occur in the field were identified using TWINSPAN. The assemblage richest in native species occurred under intermediate hydrologic conditions and was bracketed by pasture grass dominated assemblages at drier conditions with low water level variability, and Phalaris arundinacea L. assemblages with higher mean water levels and variability. Results suggest minor changes in average water levels (10 cm) or in variability (2 cm in MAD) could promote a shift from assemblages dominated by natives to those dominated by invasive or alien taxa. Canonical correspondence analysis segregated the species into four groups related to hydrologic gradients. Each species response group was typified by taxa with similar optima for a given environmental variable, with each group related to a characteristic suite of hydrologic conditions. The most common species (P. arundinacea, Juncus effusus L., and Typha latifolia L.), each representing a different response group, exhibited unique responses in occurrence/abundance in relation to water level variability, but were abundant over a wide range of water depth. The realized niches of other species in each response group were more restricted, with peaks in cover confined to narrower ranges of water depth and variability.
Article
To document environmental impact predictions for land development, as required by United States government regulatory agencies, vegetation studies are conducted using a variety of methods. Density measurement (stem counts) is one method that is frequently used. However, density measurement of shrub and herbaceous vegetation is time-consuming and costly. As an alternative, the Braun-Blanquet cover-abundance scale was used to analyze vegetation in several ecological studies. Results from one of these studies show that the Braun-Blanquet method requires only one third to one fifth the field time required for the density method. Furthermore, cover-abundance ratings are better suited than density values to elucidate graphically species-environment relationships. For extensive surveys this method provides sufficiently accurate baseline data to allow environmental impact assessment as required by regulatory agencies.
Article
Compensatory growth responses of Leymus chinensis, a dominant species in Inner Mongolia steppe, to clipping defoliation were evaluated in a pot-cultivated experiment under different nutrient (N and P) and water availability conditions. Leymus chinensis exhibited over-compensatory growth at the light and moderate clipping intensities (20% and 40% aerial mass removed) with a greater accumulated aboveground biomass, higher relative growth rate (RGR), more rhizomatic tillers and a stimulation of compensatory photosynthesis to the remnant leaves as compared with those of the unclipped plants. Intense clipping (80% aerial mass removed), which removed most of the aboveground tissues, greatly reduced the growth of aboveground biomass in comparison with that of the unclipped plants. Nitrogen addition only slightly improved the biomass production and RGR in light and moderately clipped plants, and it did not allow plants in the intense clipping condition to over-compensate. Phosphorus addition had no obvious influences on the growth and physiological responses to clipping defoliation. These results indicated that nutrient addition could not compensate for the negative effects of severe clipping on the defoliated grass. On the other hand, there were no distinct positive responses under water deficiency condition for L. chinensis at all clipping intensities with a significant reduction of aboveground and belowground biomass, lower RGR, fewer rhizomatic tillers, and a lower net photosynthetic rate than other wet treatments. Additionally, the chlorophyll contents of remnant leaves gradually increased with the increase of clipping intensities in each treatment. In conclusion, although L. chinensis could compensate for tissues removal by some morphological and physiological responses, intense clipping and drought can result in a significant decrease of biomass and growth rate, even under enriched nutrition conditions.
Article
Changes in tussock attributes and sward structure with time-since-fire were documented for the dominant tussock grass, Themeda triandra, at the Derrimut Grassland Reserve in southern Victoria, Australia. When the inter-fire interval exceeded 6 yr, the number of tillers per tussock and the total number of tussocks declined, and by 11 yr, few live tillers or tussocks remained in the sward. Below-ground biomass was also substantially lower at this time. With increasing time-since-fire, the canopy of live leaves was elevated high above the soil surface and dead leaves accumulated around and over the tussock bases. Productivity declined in long unburnt areas and by 11 yr without disturbance, the canopy “collapsed” upon itself, forming a thick layer of dead thatch over the soil surface. A single fire in an area previously unburnt for 12 yr did not immediately return the tussocks to a state more characteristic of a site with a 4 yr inter-fire interval burnt at the same time. Inter-fire intervals of ⩽5 yr would appear necessary to maintain the health and competitiveness of Themeda triandra. These findings have important implications for the maintenance of faunal habitat and the potential for weed invasion into remnant grasslands.
Article
Information required to evaluate the extent to which species are at risk of extinction is usually limited and characterized as highly uncertain. In this context, we define information availability as the presence or absence of information used to determine the value of an ecological variable. We examined which of three hypothetical approaches best matched how levels of risk are assigned to species: (1) precautionary approach in which analysts designate levels of risk regardless of the amount of information available, (2) worst-case approach in which analysts assign the maximum level of risk possible from the criteria, and (3) insurance approach in which analysts assign poorly known species to a high-risk category when little information is available. We used the quantitative assessment criteria of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as a case study. We created a binary (0/1) matrix of all 2.4192 x 107 logical combinations of available information for the 14 ecological variables included in the quantitative criteria. We processed each combination of information availability represented in the matrix with a computer algorithm designed to emulate COSEWIC decision-making rules. Low information availability was associated with a relatively high frequency of not being able to assign a candidate taxon to a risk category, which does not follow the precautionary principle. Information availability and the level of risk assigned to species were directly related, which is associated with the worst-case approach, and counter to the insurance approach. Our results suggest that information availability can have a major effect on the level of risk assigned to a species. We recommend a conscious determination of whether such effects are desired, and we recommend the development of methods to explicitly characterize and incorporate information availability and other sources of uncertainty in decision-making processes.
Article
This paper aims to evaluate the capabilities of SSM/I data in monitoring land surface features and global changes in synergy with the ERS WindScatterometer. The backscattering coefficient, the brightness temperature, and certain related quantities, measured over a yearly cycle on a number of selected test sites in different climatic regions of the world, have been related to surface features obtained from ground information
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