The biogeomorphology associated with a keystone plant species in the sub-Antarctic

Haussmann, Natalie Suzette (2011-03)

Thesis (PhD (Conservation Ecology and Entomology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Min aandag is al gegee aan biogeomorfologiese interaksies in glasiale en periglasiale omgewings. Nietemin is hierdie interaksies, wat op die skeidingsvlak tussen ekologie en geomorfologie fokus, baie belangrik in hierdie omgewings, waar organismes in noue verband met die abiotiese omgewing saamleef. In hierdie tesis bestudeer ek die interaksies tussen die vaskulêre plantspesies met die hoogste voorkoms op sub-Antarktiese Marion Eiland, Azorella selago Hook. (Apiaceae), en die omringende geomorfologiese landskapsvorme, -prosesse en meettegnieke. Verder verskaf die tesis voorstelle om toekomstige geïntegreerde biogeomorfologiese navorsing te vergemaklik. Om die gevolge van A. selago-plante vir sedimentbeweging en -verspreiding te verstaan, het ek die verspreiding van sedimentgroottes om hierdie plante gemeet deur middel van 'n kombinasie van fotografiese analise-metodes. Deur as sedimentbewegingsobstruksies te dien, het plante 'n waarneembare effek op die omringende sedimentverdeling. Dit is veral belangrik om hierdie interaksies tussen A. selago en sy omgewing te verstaan in die lig van onlangse klimaatsverandering op die eiland, omdat sedimentgrootte belangrike grondeienskappe soos waterretensiekapasiteit en vriesgevoeligheid beïnvloed. Om die effek wat A. selago plante op die omringende mikroklimaat het beter te verstaan, is die kleinskaalse variabiliteit in grondtemperature om A. selago plante bestudeer. Grootskaalse grondligting as gevolg van fors is gemeet, ten spyte van relatief ligte forseienskappe. Dit dui daarop dat naaldys ook by temperature bo -2°C kan vorm. Wintergrondtemperature aan die oostekant van plante was effens laer en minder veranderlik as aan die westekant van plante, waarskynlik as gevolg van laer windsnelhede en/of sneeu wat ophoop aan die oostelike, lykant van plante. Die resultate benadruk dat A. selago plante 'n belangrike rol speel in die verandering van mikroklimate en dat dit belangrik is om die gevolge van sulke veranderings, soos die skep van mikrohabitatte vir grondorganismes, te verstaan. Daar word vermoed dat positiewe plantinteraksies negatiewe interaksies oorheers in omgewings met hoe abiotiese druk. Gevolglik wys ek dat daar 'n positiewe verband bestaan tussen A. selago plante en saailinge van beide A. selago self, asook van die meerjarige gras Agrostis magellanica Lam. (Poaceae). Ek stel voor dat beide plante en klippe sade, wat deur wind, reenval en/of afdraande sedimenttransportering as gevolg van vriesprosesse vervoer word, opvang. Verder dui verhoogde A. selago saailinggetalle om plante, maar nie om klippe nie, daarop dat plante een of ander biologiese voordeel aan A. selago saailinge bied. Dit is bekend dat die verspreidingspatrone van plantspesies as gevolg van abiotiese stresgradiente varieër. Met hierdie bevinding in gedagte, is moontlike faktore verantwoordelik vir A. selago saailinggetalle en -verspreidingspatrone, soos hoogte bo seespieël en substraatbedekking, bestudeer. Alhoewel dit wil voorkom asof daar 'n verband tussen saailinggetalle en hoogte bo seespieël is, is saailinggetalle en verpreidings meestal afhanklik van ongemeette perseel-spesifieke eienskappe. Plante kan die omringende geomorfologie beïnvloed, maar ook geomorfologiese meettegnieke. Om die potensiaal van kosmogeniese dateringsmetodes as geomorfologiese hulpmiddels in fellfield habitatte te verken, is die akkumulasietempo van die kosmogeniese isotoop ¹ºBe onder en langs 'n A. selago plant bepaal. Die resultate dui daarop dat ¹ºBe nie ten volle in die grondprofiel behoue bly nie en verskeie potensiële redes word bespreek. Verder dui die resultate daarop dat ¹ºBe konsentrasies in fellfield habitatte versigtig geïnterpreteer moet word, aangesien A. selago plante effektief ¹ºBe opvang in hulle grondryke kern. Om vordering in biogeomorfologie te vergemaklik, is dit belangrik om bewus te wees van die verskillende metodes wat geomorfoloë en ekoloë volg. Ekologiese benaderings is dikwels op strenger statistiese tegnieke gebaseer, terwyl geomorfoloë eerder fokus op 'n meer beskrywende benadering en teoretiese beredenering. Ek verduidelik hoekom die twee velde sulke uiteenlopende benaderings volg, benadruk moontlike struikelblokke en verskaf voorstelle om samewerking te vergemaklik.

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: There are few scientific publications that relate to biogeomorphological interactions in glacial and periglacial environments. Interactions that focus on the interface between ecology and geomorphology are very important in these environments, as a tight coupling often exists between organisms and their abiotic surroundings. In this thesis the interactions between the dominant vascular cushion plant species on sub-Antarctic Marion Island, Azorella selago Hook. (Apiaceae), and the surrounding geomorphological landforms, processes and measuring techniques were studied. In addition, the thesis provides suggestions to facilitate future integrated biogeomorphological research. To understand the consequences of A. selago cushions for substrate movement and sorting, the grain size distribution of sediment surrounding these cushions was quantified using a combination of image analysis approaches. Through obstructing frost-related sediment transport, A. selago cushions are shown to affect the grain size sorting of the surrounding sediment. Particle size affects soil properties such as water-holding capacity and frost susceptibility. It is therefore important to understand the interactions between A. selago cushions and sediment distributions, especially in the light of recent warming and drying on the island. Fine scale variability in soil temperature parameters was studied around cushions to improve understanding on how A. selago affects the surrounding soil microclimate. Despite the mild frost climate, extensive frost heave occurred in the study area, indicating that needle ice forms above the previously suggested required temperature of -2°C. Lower and less variable winter temperatures were found on eastern than on western cushion sides, probably as a result of lower wind speeds or leeside snow accumulation on eastern cushion sides. These research findings highlight the importance of A. selago cushions in modifying site microclimates. Such modifications could have important potential consequences, such as providing microhabitats for soil microorganisms and seedlings. Positive plant interactions have been suggested to dominate over negative interactions in environments with high abiotic stress. Positive associations were found between A. selago and both its own seedlings and those of the perennial grass, Agrostis magellanica Lam. (Poaceae) on Marion Island. It is suggested that both cushions and rocks trap seeds dispersed by wind, runoff and/or downslope sediment transport through frost creep. In addition, increased A. selago seedling numbers around cushions, but not around rocks, suggest that cushions provide a biological nurse effect to seedlings of their own kind. Plant species' distributions have been known to vary in response to abiotic stress gradients. In light of this, determinants of A. selago seedling distributions and abundance, such as altitude and substrate cover, were explored. Although there appears to be some altitudinal trend, seedling distributions and abundance patterns were largely attributed to unaccounted variation between sites. Plants can affect the surrounding geomorphology, but also geomorphological measuring techniques. To explore the potential of cosmogenic dating techniques as geomorphological tools in fellfield habitats, accumulation rates of the cosmogenic isotope ­¹ºBe were assessed underneath and adjacent to an A. selago cushion. The results show that ¹ºBe is not fully retained in the soil profile and various reasons are discussed. Furthermore, the results suggest that ¹ºBe concentrations should be interpreted cautiously in fellfield habitats, as A. selago cushions effectively intercept the isotope in their soil-rich core. To facilitate the integration of geomorphological and ecological principles, as was attempted in this thesis, it is important to understand the philosophies behind the different research approaches that ecologists and geomorphologists employ. Ecologists often employ a more statistics-based approach, whereas geomorphologists focus on a more descriptive approach and reasoning based on established theories. I attempt to explain why the two fields follow such different approaches, highlight some potential challenges and provide suggestions to facilitate progress in the interdisciplinary field of biogeomorphology.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/6909
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