Limited effect of hare grazing and short-term climatic variations on the most common alpine vegetation community in the Snowy Mountains, Australia
Background: In the alpine zone of the Snowy Mountains, grazing by mammals is limited. However, introduced European hare numbers have increased since the 1970s. Aims: To estimate the density of hares and hence grazing pressure among years. To assess the response of biomass, vegetation height and composition to a cessation of hare grazing. Methods: We used indices of hare abundance based on spotlighting and counts of hare pellets on a transect. The effect of hare grazing on tall alpine herbfield was assessed by using 15 paired exclosure and control quadrats for six years. Results: The indices of hare abundance suggested densities similar to those in upland areas of Britain. Grazing did not affect the composition, cover of herbs or graminoids or, for 2010, vegetation height or biomass. Variation in vegetation and hare numbers among years was not correlated with climatic variables. Observations of selective grazing suggested that impacts on vegetation may be localised and restricted to certain species. Prior analyses of hare pellets indicated that hares might spread seed of native and exotic species. Conclusions: Hares are having no general effect on tall alpine herbfield but may affect certain plant species via selective grazing or by spread of viable seed.
Plant Ecology and Diversity
Natural Resource Management