Species occupancy, distribution and abundance : indigenous and alien invasive vascular plants on sub-Antarctic Marion Island

Phiri, E. E. (2008-12)

Thesis (MSc)--Stellenbosch University, 2008.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Macroecological relationships have rarely been studied at wide spatial scales and across geographic ranges of species in the field in the sub-Antarctic. In this thesis I examined the occupancy, distribution and abundance, and the relationships thereof, of indigenous plants and alien species at broad (island-wide) and fine scales across sub-Antarctic Marion Island. The impacts of alien species and their interactions with indigenous plants were also investigated. I examined the nature of the abundance structure of a cushion-forming, vascular plant, Azorella selago, at the island-wide scale. Moreover, the hypothesis that species reach their highest abundances at the centre of their geographic range and decline in abundance towards the range edges was tested. Azorella selago cushions were counted in 8 m x 8 m quadrats, placed regularly at 1 minute latitude and longitude intervals across Marion Island. Using spatially non-explicit and explicit methods, this study showed that the abundance structure of A. selago had a more complex pattern of high abundance patches and low abundance gaps in its island-wide distribution. Subsequently, the hypothesis of an abundant centre distribution was not supported for A. selago across Marion Island. Rather, there were sharp discontinuities at both the coastal and altitudinal (667 m a.s.l.) limits for the species, between which little pattern in altitudinal abundance structure existed. Mice (Mus musculus) have recently been found to cause extensive structural damage to A. selago. The structural influence of mice on vegetation structure at the landscape scale has largely been overlooked on many sub-Antarctic islands. I mapped the distribution of evidence of mouse damage within the cushions of A. selago across the island using systematic (at 1 minute latitude and longitude intervals) and opportunistic sampling. Approximately 40 % of the systematically sampled sites had evidence of mouse damage to A. selago. Furthermore, a third of cushions in opportunistically sampled sites was damaged. Mouse damage was high in sites of low A. selago abundance, emphasizing that impacts of mice may be greater in low cushion abundance areas. This damage sometimes led to the disintegration of entire cushions. Given that A. selago acts as a nurse plant and supports high abundances of indigenous invertebrates, the impacts of mice on this keystone species may have significant ecological implications. Studies on interactions between alien and indigenous plants are limited within the sub-Antarctic. I examined the fine-scale distributions and co-occurrences of alien plants, Agrostis stolonifera and Sagina procumbens, and the indigenous Acaena magellanica (in 2 m x 2 m plots, subdivided into 0.25 m x 0.25 m quadrats) along rivers on Marion Island. Environmental variables were important for the occurrence of these species. In particular, 42.95 % and 24.82 % of the deviance in the occurrence of A. stolonifera and S. procumbens, respectively, was explained by environmental variables, compared to 17.35 % for A. magellanica. Furthermore, the co-occurrence of A. magellanica with A. stolonifera was significantly influenced by environmental variables. Significant positive spatial associations between A. magellanica and A. stolonifera were found, while the interactions of either species with S. procumbens were either spatially dissociated or random. Therefore, this study highlighted that alien species are responding to different environmental variables and conditions on Marion Island. Sagina procumbens seems to be less sensitive to the island’s environmental conditions and may thus be affecting biodiversity at broader ranges. This thesis provides unparalleled data on the distributions and interactions of indigenous plants and alien species for Marion Island. Alien species are undoubtedly posing significant threats to indigenous plants on the island and this thesis presents insight into interactions of species, specifically plants, an approach underrepresented in the sub-Antarctic to date.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Makro-ekologiese verhoudings is selde bestudeer op wye ruimtelike skale en oor geografiese gebiede van spesies in die veld in die sub-Antarktiek. In hierdie tesis het ek die digtheid, bewoning, verspreiding en die verhoudings daarvan, van inheemse plante en uitheemse spesies ondersoek op breë (eiland-wyd) en smal skale oor sub-Antarktiese Marion Eiland. Die impakte van uitheemse spesies en hul interaksies met inheems plante is ook ondersoek. Ek het die aard van die digtheidstruktuur ondersoek van 'n kussing-vormende, vaatplant, Azorella selago, op die eiland-wydte skaal. Bowenal is die hipotese dat spesies hul hoogste digtheid bereik in die sentrum van hul geografies gebied en afneem in digtheid na die grense van die gebied getoets. Azorella selago kussings is getel in 8 m x 8 m kwadrante, wat eweredig geplaas is op 1 minuut breedte- en lengtegraad intervalle oor Marion Eiland. Deur gebruik te maak van ruimtelik nie-eksplisiete en eksplisiete metodes, het hierdie studie getoon dat die digtheidstruktuur van A. selago ‘n meer komplekse patroon van hoë digtheidslaslappe en lae digtheidsgapings in sy eiland-wyd verspreiding het. Vervolgens is die hipotese van 'n digte sentrum verspreiding nie gesteun vir A. selago oor Marion Eiland nie. Daar was eerder skerp diskontinuïteite by beide die kus- en hoërliggende (667 m bo seespieël) grense vir die spesie, waartussen daar ’n oneweredige patroon in digtheidstruktuur bestaan het. Onlangs is bevind dat muise (Mus musculus) uitgebreide struktuele skade aan A. selago veroorsaak. Die struktuele invloed van muise op plantegroei struktuur op landskapskaal is grootliks oor die hoof gesien op baie sub-Antarktiese eilande. Ek het die verspreiding van die bewyse van muisskade binne die kussings van A. selago oor die eiland gekarteer deur gebruik te maak van sistematiese (tot 1 minuut breedte- en lengtegraad intervalle) en opportunistiese opnames. Ongeveer 40 % van die sistematiese opname kwadrante het bewyse van muis skade aan A. selago vertoon. Verder, ‘n derde van die kussings in die opportunistiese opname kwadrante was beskadig. Muisskade was hoog in plotte met lae A. selago volopheid, wat beklemtoon dat impakte van muise groter mag wees in lae kussing digtheid gebiede. Hierdie skade het partykeer gelei tot die verbrokkeling van hele kussings. Gegewe dat A. selago as 'n verpleegsterplant optree en ’n hoë digtheid van inheemse invertebrata ondersteun, mag die impakte van muise op hierdie hoeksteen spesie beduidende ekologiese implikasies tot gevolg hê. Studies oor interaksies tussen uitheemse- en inheemse plante is beperk in die sub-Antarktiese gebied. Ek het die smal-skaal verspreidings ondersoek en medevoorkoms van uitheemse plante, Agrostis stolonifera en Sagina procumbens, en die inheems Acaena magellanica (in 2 m x 2 m kwadrante, subverdeel in 0. 25 m x 0. 25 m kwadrante) langs riviere op Marion Eiland. Omgewingsveranderlikes was belangrik vir die voorkoms van hierdie spesies. In besonder, 42.95 % en 24.82 % van die afwykings in die voorkoms van A. stolonifera en S. procumbens, onderskeidelik, is verduidelik deur omgewingsveranderlikes, vergeleke met 17.35 % vir A. magellanica. Verder, die medevoorkoms van A. magellanica saam met A. stolonifera is beduidend beinvloed deur omgewingsveranderlikes. Beduidende positiewe ruimtelike assosiasies tussen A. magellanica en A. stolonifera is gevind, terwyl die interaksies van beide spesies met S. procumbens was of ruimtelik nie-geassosieerd of lukraak. Daarom het hierdie studie uitgelig dat uitheemse spesies reageer op verskillende omgewingsveranderlikes op Marion Eiland. Sagina procumbens blyk minder sensitief te wees tot die eiland se omgewingsomstandighede en mag dus moontlik biodiversiteit op breër vlakke beïnvloed. Hierdie tesis voorsien onge-ewenaarde data oor die verspreiding en interaksies van inheems plante en uitheemse spesies vir Marion Eiland. Uitheemse spesies hou ongetwyfeld ’n beduidende bedreiging in vir inheems plante op die eiland, en hierdie tesis bied insig in die interaksies van spesies, spesifiek plante – ’n benadering wat swak verteenwoordig was in die sub-Antarktiese gebied tot op hede.

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