Spatial patterns in the microarthropod community associated with Azorella selago (Apiaceae) on the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands

Hugo, Elizabeth Aletta (2006-12)

Dissertation (PhD)--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The spatial distribution of animals and plants at different scales is a central theme in ecology. Knowledge of biodiversity distribution is essential, especially with the current threat of climate change and invasion by alien species. Since the impact of climate change and alien species will be, and has already been pronounced in polar regions, information on the current spatial distributions of biota in these regions is critical to predict the consequences of climate change and alien species on the future survival, distribution and abundance of indigenous biota. This study was conducted on the sub- Antarctic Prince Edward Islands (consisting of Marion Island and Prince Edward Island), which have experienced rapid climate changes over the past 50 years. Additionally, a number of alien plant, vertebrate and invertebrate (also microarthropod) species have been introduced to these islands. Since microarthropods (mites and springtails) play an essential role in decomposition and mineralization of plant material on the islands, the loss of microarthropods from decomposer communities might have disastrous results for ecosystem processes. Therefore it is essential to know the current distributions of microarthropods in order to predict future distributions patterns in reaction to climate change and invasive species. In this study, the spatial distribution of mites and springtails inhabiting the cushion plant Azorella selago Hook, were examined at different scales of observation. Firstly, the microarthropod community was examined at a fine scale. The relationship between microarthropod species richness and abundance and plant size, isolation, within-plant variability, grass cover and microclimate variables were investigated. Thereafter, the spatial variability of microarthropod abundances was examined within stands of plants, with statistical methods using varying degrees of locational information to determine if microarthropod abundance is random, regular or aggregated at this scale. Further, the spatial variability of microarthropod communities in A. selago at different altitudes and on different sides of Marion Island, i.e. island-wide scale, was examined. The last scale of observation was the island-wide scale, in which microarthropod assemblages were compared between Marion Island and Prince Edward Island, as well as in different plant species. Microarthropods showed spatial heterogeneity within A. selago plants (higher abundances in eastern and southern sides of plants), island-wide (lower springtail abundance on the eastern side of the island and at high altitudes) and between islands (more alien species on Marion Island). In contrast, microarthropod abundance was not spatially heterogeneous within a stand of plants, i.e. mostly randomly distributed. The possible mechanisms responsible for these patterns differ between scales, and range from temperature and nutrient availability at the within plant and island wide scale to alien species between islands. Climate change is likely to alter these distribution patterns of microarthropods, either directly (unfavourable climate for indigenous species growth, development and dispersal) or indirectly (favouring alien microarthropod species; increase in grass cover on A. selago plants may alter community structure). The information presented here, is essential for predicting the possible impacts of climate change on microarthropods in fellfield ecosystems on sub-Antarctic islands.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die ruimtelike verspreiding van diere en plante op verskillende skale is ‘n sentrale tema in ekologie. Kennis van die verspreiding van biodiversiteit is belangrik, veral met die huidige bedreiging van klimaatsverandering en indringerspesies. Omdat die impak van klimaatsverandering en indringerspesies in die poolstreke alreeds duidelik is en nog meer so sal word, is inligting oor die huidige ruimtelike verspreiding van biota in hierdie streke noodsaaklik. Hierdie studie is op die sub-Antarktiese Prins Edward-eilande (bestaande uit Marion Eiland en Prins Edward Eiland) uitgevoer, waar die klimaat vinnig verander het oor die afeglope 50 jaar. Bykomend is ‘n aantal indringer plant, vertebraat en invertebraat (ook mikroartropood) spesies op die eilande ingebring. Omdat mikroartropoda (myte en springsterte) ‘n baie belangrike rol in ontbinding en mineralisering van plantmateriaal op hierdie eilande speel, sal die verlies van mikroartropoda uit die ontbindingsgemeenskap rampspoedige gevolge vir die prosesse in die ekosisteem hê. Kennis van die huidige verpreiding van mikroartropoda is dus noodsaaklik om die toekomstige verspreidingspatrone, asook oorlewing en volopheid van inheemse spesies in reaksie op klimaatsveranding en indringerspesies, te voorspel. In hierdie studie is die ruimtelike verspreiding van myte en springsterte wat in die kussingplant Azorella selago Hook voorkom, op verskillende ruimtelike skale ondersoek. Eerstens is die mikroartropood gemeenskap op ‘n klein skaal ondersoek. Die verwantskap tussen mikroartropood spesies rykheid en volopheid en plantgrootte, isolasie, binne-plant variasie, gras bedekking en mikroklimaat faktore is ondersoek. Daarna is die ruimtelike variasie van mikroartropood volopheid binne in ‘n plantstand ondersoek deur gebruik te maak van metodes wat verskillende grade van ligging data gebruik. Dit is gedoen om uit te vind of mikroartropood volopheid lukraak, reëlmatig of versameld verspreid is. Verder is die ruimtelike verspreiding van mikroartropood gemeenskappe in A. selago op verskillende hoogtes bo seespieël en op verskillende kante van Marion Eiland ondersoek. Laastens is die mikroartropood gemeenskap op Marion Eiland en Prins Edward Eiland, asook die gemeenskap in verskillende plant spesies vergelyk. Mikroartropoda is ruimtelik heterogeen verspreid binne-in A. selago (meer individue in die oostelike en suidelike kante van plante), asook regoor Marion Eiland (minder springstert individue aan die ooste kant van die eiland asook minder op hoë hoogtes bo seespieël) en tussen eilande (meer indringerspesies op Marion Eiland). In teenstelling hiermee is mikroartropood volopheid ruimtelik homogeen oor ‘n plantstand, dus meestal lukraak verspreid. Die meganismes wat moontlik vir hierdie patrone verantwoordelik is wissel van temperatuur en voedselbeskikbaarheid op die binne-plant en oor die eiland skaal tot indringerspesies op die tussen-eiland skaal. Klimaatsverandering mag waarskynlik mikroartropood verspreidingspatrone direk (ongunstige klimaat vir inheemse spesies se groei, ontwikkeling en verspreiding), of indirek verander (indringer spesies word begunstig; toename in grasbedekking bo-op A. selago mag die gemeenskapstruktuur van mikroartropoda verander). Hierdie inligting is belangrik vir die voorspelling van die moontlike impak van klimaatsverandering op mikroartropoda in klipveld ekosisteme op sub-Antarktiese eilande.

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