The interaction between a keystone plant species and its dominant epiphyte on Marion Island : climate change implications

Buwa, Ziphokazi Siyasanga (2007-12)

Thesis (MSc)--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Climate has shown some remarkable changes over the past century, especially at the polar and sub-polar regions. Southern Ocean Islands provide good models for studies related to climate change effects, since effects may be evident in the short term and may also be clearer. Marion Island is an example of such a system with a harsh abiotic environment, and low species richness often vulnerable to change. Climate change is predicted, and also reported, to have biological consequences on plant communities, affecting the phenology, morphology, and the interaction between individuals and species. This study examines the association between the keystone plant species, Azorella selago Hook. (Apiaceace), and its dominant epiphyte Agrostis magellanica Lam. (Poaceae). Two complimentary approaches were used, one observational and the other experimental. The main objective for the observational study was to quantify bioticallyrelevant microclimate temperature, as well as the morphology, epiphyte load and phenology of A. selago at three different altitude sites on Marion Island. This provided information on baseline variation for understanding specific variability in plant response to the experimental part of this study, against which future patterns arising from biological monitoring can be compared. Studying plants at different altitudes provides a possible analogue for temperature-related climate change consequences for the ecology of A. selago, and its interaction with A. magellanica. The microclimate temperature associated with A. selago differed between the three sites examined. This difference was related to local topographic conditions and altitude differences. Cushion size differed distinctively between the three altitude sites, with this difference related to environmental heterogeneity such as differences in age and substrate structure. Azorella selago annual growth rate was estimated through stem length and the number of leaves on both exposed and shaded stems. Within-site variability, as well as epiphyte cover were found to be the contributing factors on A. selago annual growth rate. This highlights the importance of site-specificity when estimating growth rate within and between different altitude sites. Leaf characteristics differed between the sites, with this attributed to local habitat conditions, such as topography, as well as epiphyte cover. As expected, the difference in leaf size between exposed and shaded leaves demonstrated a larger specific leaf area on leaves shaded by A. magellanica. Agrostis magellanica abundance and density were altitudinally related, with A. selago demonstrating facilitation effects on A. magellanica. The trend shown in this study suggests that in spite of general facilitative effect of A. selago on A. magellanica towards higher altitudes, the abiotic environmental threshold for A. magellanica occurs at lower altitudes than it does for A. selago. Phenological differences were also apparent between the three sites. The objectives of the experimental part of this study were to quantify the effect of the dominant epiphyte, A. magellanica on biotically-relevant microclimatic temperatures, as well as on the phenology and physical condition of A. selago. Different treatments were applied to cushions at the three altitude sites to examine the shading effect of epiphytic A. magellanica on cushion plants, as well as the effect of treatment-related disturbance. Azorella selago microclimate temperature showed no significant difference between treatments, suggesting that on average epiphytic A. magellanica cover has no effect on cushion microclimate temperature. The percentage of flower budding and flowering of A. selago was negatively related to epiphyte cover. Cushion vitality was also responsive to epiphyte cover, with higher vitality scores on low grass covered cushions than on high grass cushions. This shows that A. magellanica competes with A. selago, while A. selago facilitates A. magellanica. Heavy epiphyte numbers impose negative effects on A. selago vegetative and reproductive performance, as well as cushion vitality. Therefore, the results of this research show that the vegetative and reproductive performance of A. selago and cushion vitality are likely to be negatively affected under ongoing climate change on Marion Island if this brings about heavier epiphyte loads on this keystone cushion plant species.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In die afgelope eeu het die klimaat in die Antarktiese en sub-Antarktiese gebiede merkwaardige verandering getoon. Die Suidelike See Eilande dien as goeie modelle vir studies verwant aan die gevolge van klimaatsverandering, aangesien die kort termyn effekte in die gebiede duideliker mag wees in die toekoms. Marion Eiland is ‘n voorbeeld van so ‘n sisteem, met ‘n ruwe abiotiese omgewing en lae spesies rykheid, wat vatbaar is vir verandering. Daar word voorspel, en is reeds bevind dat klimaatsverandering biologiese gevolge op plant gemeenskappe het, in terme van morfologie, fenologie en die interaksie tussen individue en spesies. Hierdie studie ondersoek die assosiasie tussen die hoeksteen plant spesie, Azorella selago (Apiaceace), en sy dominante epifietiese gras, Agrostis magellanica Lam. (Poaceae). Die studie is op twee komplimentêre maniere benader, naamlik deur waarneming en eksperiment. Die hoof doel van die studie was om die biotiese belang van mikroklimaat temperatuur te kwantifiseer, en die hoeveelheid epifiete, die morfologie en die fenologie van A. selago te bepaal by drie verskillende hoogtes op Marion Eiland. Laasgenoemde het inligting verskaf oor die variasie in die reaksie van plante tot die eksperimentele aspek van die studie, waarteen patrone vanaf toekomstige biologiese beheer vergelyk kon word. Deur plante te bestudeer by verskillende hoogtes bo seespieël word ‘n moontlike analoog vir die gevolge van temperatuur-verwante klimaatverandering in terme van die ekologie van A. selago, en laasgenoemde se interaksie met A. magellanica verskaf. Die mikroklimaat temperatuur geassosieer met A. selago verskil tussen dié drie liggings. Die versil was verwant aan die plaaslike topografiese toestande en die verskillende hoogtes bo seespieël. Die grootte van die kussingplante het duidelik versil tussen die drie liggings, met die verskille verwant aan die omgewing se heterogeneïteit, byvoorbeeld die verskille in ouderdom en substraat struktuur. Azorella selago se jaarlikse groeitempo was bepaal deur die stingel lengte en die aantal blare, op beide die wat oorskadu is deur die gras, en die was nie oorskadu is nie. Daar is gevind dat die faktore wat bygedra het tot die jaarlikse groeitempo van A. selago, varieër binne die verskillende liggings, en bedekking deur epifiete. Dit beklemtoon die belang van spesifisiteit van ligging wanneer groeitempo in en tussen die liggings van verskillende hoogtes bepaal word. Die blaar eienskappe het verskil tussen verskillende liggings, as gevolg van plaaslike habitat toestande, soos topografie en bedekking deur epifiete. Soos verwag, het die blare wat oorskadu was deur A. magellanica ‘n groter spesifieke blaar area getoon as blare wat blootgestel was. Die hoeveelheid en digtheid van Agrosits magellanica was verwant aan hoogte bo seespieël, met A. selago wat fasiliterende effekte toon op A. magellanica. Die tendens waargeneem in hierdie studie is dat ten spyte van die algemene fasiliterende effek van A. selago op A. magellanica, die abiotiese omgewingsdrempel op ‘n laer hoogte is vir A. magellanica as vir A. selago. Fenologiese verskille was ook duidelik tussen die drie liggings. Die doel van die eksperimentele deel van die studie was om die effek van die dominante epifiet, A. magellanica, te bepaal op bioties relevante mikroklimaat temperature, asook op die fenologie en fiesiese toestand van A. selago. Verskeie behandelings is aangewend op die kussingplante by die drie liggings om die effek van skaduwee van die epifietiese A. magellanica op die plante te bepaal, asook die effek van versteurings versoorsaak deur die behandelings. Azorella selago se mikroklimaat temperatuur het geen betekenisvolle verskille tussen behandelings getoon nie, wat voorstel dat epifitiese A. magellanica oor die algemeen geen effek op die kussingplante se mikroklimaat temperatuur het nie. Daar was ‘n negatiewe verwantskap tussen die hoeveelheid epifiete op A. selago en die persentasie blomme en blomknoppe op die kussingplante. Die plante se vitaliteit was ook afhanklik van epifiet bedekking, met ‘n hoër vitaliteit telling vir kussingplante bedek met lae gras as die bedek met hoë gras. Dit toon dat A. magellanica met A. selago wedywer, terwyl A. selago vir A. magellanica fasiliteer. Hoë epifiet getalle het negatiewe effekte op A. selago se vegetatiewe en reproproduktiewe nakoming, asook die kussingplante se vitaliteit. Die resultate van hierdie studie toon dus dat die vegetatiewe en reproduktiewe nakoming van A. selago en kussingplant vitaliteit heel moontlik negatief geaffekteer sal word indien klimaatsverandering op Marion Eiland hoër epifiet getalle op die sleutel kussingplant spesie tot gevolg sal hê.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/17743
This item appears in the following collections: