Vegetation, microclimate and soils associated with the latest-lying snowpatches in Australia
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Background: The Snowy Mountains contain Australia's longest-lasting snowpatches. Because of climate change, their longevity has declined, with the loss of some specialist vegetation in the underlying snowbeds. Aims: To characterise the current status of the vegetation associated with the longest-lasting snowpatches in Australia and its association with abiotic factors. Methods: We assessed plant composition, soil depth, moisture and nutrients and subsurface temperatures in five zones of increasing vegetation height and cover in snowbeds. Results: The zone beneath the middle of snowpatches was characterised by little vegetation cover and lower species richness, later emergence from snow, skeletal soils, and lower mean soil temperatures than zones further downslope where soils increased in depth and nutrient levels. Vegetation beneath these snowpatches no longer occurs in distinct communities. Plants have not simply migrated upslope. Instead, areas that have deep soil that used to have snowpatch specialist species are being colonised upslope by grasses and down slope by tall alpine herbfield species that prefer bare ground. Conclusions: Reduced longevity of Australia's longest-lasting snowpatches has led to the loss of distinct snowpatch vegetation communities. With limited soils beneath the centre of current snowpatches, and a lack of other suitable sites there is no location for these plant communities to migrate to.
Plant Ecology and Diversity
Copyright 2009 Taylor & Francis. This is an electronic version of an article published in Plant Ecology and Diversity, Volume 2, Issue 3 October 2009 , pages 289 - 300. Plant Ecology and Diversity is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com with the open URL of your article.
Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified