Patterns of variability in Azorella selago Hook. (Apiaceae) on sub-Antarctic Marion Island : climate change implications

Nyakatya, Mawethu Justice (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2006-12)

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Understanding the responses of species to climate change is a scientific problem that requires urgent attention, especially under current conditions of global climate change. The large and rapid rates of climate change reported for sub-Antarctic Marion Island makes the island highly suitable for studying the biotic consequences of climate change. Furthermore, the extreme environments on the island result in a close coupling of the biotic (e.g. population dynamics) and abiotic (e.g. climate) factors. Therefore, examining the response of the dominant and keystone plant species on the island, Azorella selago Hook. (Apiaceae), to climate-associated environmental change (e.g. temperature) may provide insight into how A. selago and the associated species communities will be affected by climate change. This study described the variability in microclimate temperatures associated with A. selago across altitudinal gradient and between the eastern and western sides of Marion Island. Microclimate temperatures were also compared to the island’s Meteorological data to determine variation between temperatures experienced by A. selago cushion-plants in the field and those recorded at the island’s Meteorological Station. Temperature variation inside and outside A. selago cushions was also examined. Azorella selago cushions were found to have a buffering effect on temperature, such that species occurring epiphytically on A. selago experience more moderate temperatures than the surrounding environment. However, A. selago were found to experience more extreme temperatures than temperatures recorded at the Meteorological Station. Therefore, A. selago may possibly experience greater environmental warming than recorded by the Meteorological Station. While temperatures decline with altitude, temperature conditions on the western side of the island were more temperate than the eastern side. This presents the first record of temperature conditions on the western side of the island. This study also quantified fine-scale (e.g. within-site) and broad-scale (e.g. island-wide) variability patterns of A. selago (morphology, phenology, and epiphyte load) across Marion Island. Altitudinal gradient and climatic exposure at different sides of the island were used to understand the likely effects of climate associated environmental change on this dominant component of the fellfield habitat. Site-specific processes were found to determine the spatial structure of A. selago characteristics at fine-scales. However, broad-scale observations established strong responses of A. selago characteristics to altitudinal gradients and different sides of the island. Azorella selago morphological features (e.g. plant size and leaf size) were found to be more responsive to differences between the eastern and western sides of the island than to altitudinal gradient. Azorella selago micro-morphological features (e.g. leaf trichomes and stomatal densities) were also found to be more responsive to climatic exposure at different sides of the island than to altitudinal gradient. However, differences in A. selago epiphyte density (e.g. Agrostis magellanica) and phenology resembled microclimate temperatures in that they were more responsive to altitudinal gradient than to side of the island differences. From these results it can therefore be predicted that the A. selago of Marion Island is likely to be morphologically fairly resilient to moderate climatic shifts, although at lower altitudes and on the eastern side of the island, it may be outcompeted by the epiphytic grass, Agrostis magellanica. The results also suggest that the warming climate of Marion Island may result in an early occurrence of phenological processes particularly at lower altitudes and the eastern side. Azorella selago at lower altitudes and on the eastern side of Marion Island are therefore expected to largely show more symptoms of climate change (e.g. warming) on this species. Azorella selago is also predicted to move up altitudinal gradients in response to warming.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: ’n Begrip van hoe spesies reageer op klimaatsverandering is ’n wetenskaplike vraag wat onmiddellike aandag benodig, veral onder huidige globale klimaatsverandering. Die groot en snelle tempo waarteen klimaatsverandering waargeneem word op sub-Antarktiese Marion Eiland, maak die eiland hoogs geskik om die biotiese gevolge van klimaatsverandering te bestudeer. Verder veroorsaak die uiterste omgewing van die eiland tot ’n nabye koppeling tussen die biotiese (bv. populasie dinamika) en abiotiese (bv. klimaat) faktore. Dus, deur die reaksies van ’n dominante- en sleutel-spesie op die eiland, Azorella selago Hook. (Apiaceae), op klimaat-geassosieerde omgewings verandering (bv. temperatuur) te bestudeer, mag insig verskaf hoe A. selago en geassosieerde spesie gemeenskappe geaffekteer sal word deur klimaatsverandering. Hierdie studie beskryf die wispelturigheid in mikroklimaat temperature geassosieer met A. selago oor ’n hoogte gradiënt asook tussen die oostelike en westelik dele van Marion Eiland. Mikroklimaat temperature was ook vergelyk met die eiland se Meteorologiese data met die doel om die mate van variasie tussen temperature verduur deur A. selago kussing-plante in die natuurlike omgewing met die van die eiland se Meteorologiese stasie te vergelyk. Temperatuur variasie binne en buite A. selago kussing-plante is ook vasgestel. Dit was gevind dat Azorella selago kussing-plante die temperatuur buffer, met die gevolg dat spesies wat epifities op A. selago voorkom, meer gematigde temperature ondervind as die onmiddellike omgewing om die plant. Daar is egter gevind dat A. selago meer uiterste temperature ondervind as temperature gemeet by die Meteorologiese stasie. Dus mag A. selago groter omgewings verwarming ervaar as wat temperature gemeet by die Meteorologiese stasie dui. Terwyl temperatuur afneem met ’n toename in hoogte, was temperatuur aan die westekant van die eiland mere gematig as die oostekant. Dit verskaf die eerste rekord van temperatuur toestande aan die westekant van die eiland. Hierdie studie bepaal ook die fyn-skaal (e.g. binne-terrein) en groot-skaal (e.g. oor die eiland) variasie patrone van A. selago (morfologie, fenologie, en epifiet lading) oor Marion Eiland. Die hoogte gradiënt en klimaat blootstelling aan verskillende kante van die eiland is gebruik om die waarskynlike effekte van klimaats-geassosieerde omgewings verandering op die dominante deel van die felfield habitat te verstaan. Daar is gevind dat terrein spesifieke prosesse die ruimtelike struktuur van A. selago se klein-skaal eienskappe bepaal. Groot-skaalse waarnemings dui egter ’n sterk antwoord van A. selago eienskappe op die hoogte gradiënt en aan verskillende kante van die eiland. Azorella selago morfologiese eienskappe (e.g. plant- en blaar grootte) is gevind om meer te reageer op verskille tussen oostelike en westelike kante van die eiland as op die hoogte gradiënt. Azorella selago mikromorfologiese eienskappe (e.g. blaar trigome en stomata digtheid) is ook gevind om meer te reageer op omgewings blootstelling tussen verskillende kante van die eiland as op die hoogte gradiënt. Verskille in A. selago epifiet digtheid (e.g. Agrostis magellanica) en fenologie het egter mikroklimaat temperature gevolg, in dat beide meer gereageer het op die hoogte gradiënt as eiland-kant verskille. Hierdie resultate voorspel dus dat dit waarskynlik is dat A. selago van Marion Eiland morfologies redelik terugspringend sal wees ten opsigte van matige klimaatsverandering, al mag dit uitgekompeteer word deur die epifitiese gras, Agrostis magellanica by lae hoogtes en aan die oostekant van die eiland. Hierdie resultate dui ook dat verwarming van Marion Eiland se klimaat ’n vervroeging van fenologiese prosesse mag hê, veral by lae hoogtes en aan die oostekant van die eiland. Dus word dit verwag dat Azorella selago by lae hoogtes en aan die oostekant van Marion Eiland om meer simptome van klimaatsverandering (e.g. verwarming) te dui. Dit word ook voorspel dat Azorella selago opwaarts teen die hoogte gradiënt sal beweeg in reaksie tot verwarming.

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