Ecological change as a result of winter tourism : snow manipulation in the Australian Alps

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Pickering, C
Hill, W
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Buckley, R
Pickering, C
Weaver, DB
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This study examines potential direct and indirect effects of snow manipulation (e.g. slope grooming, snow grooming, snow making, snow harvesting and snow fences) on vegetation in the Australian Alps. The extent of snow manipulation has increased substantially over the last decade, in order to maintain the economic viability of ski resorts. In Australia, little research has been done on the resulting environmental impacts. This is despite the high conservation value of the Australian Alps, with resorts located either in or adjacent to national parks. Overseas research indicates that snow manipulation results in a cascade of changes that can negatively affect native flora. Slope grooming can involve extensive modification of the environment, including removal of native vegetation and reformation of slope topography, and this results in changes to hydro-logical patterns. Snow grooming not only physically damages plants but also compacts the snow, increasing its density and reducing porosity and permeability. This limits the ability of the snow pack to slow water runoff, thus increasing the risk of erosion, and can retard spring snowmelt. Snow compaction affects plants by increasing the risk of physical damage from freezing. However, the range of indirect impacts on plants can be extensive, and includes impacts due to lower soil temperatures, greater depth of soil freezing, depleted soil nutrients and higher soil pH. Biological effects of snow compaction and other snow manipulation techniques have been studied less, but include changes in soil biota, herbivory, animal activity, predation, insect activity, seed dispersal and the composition of plant communities. This study highlights the need for research into environmental impacts of tourism, to ensure that winter ski tourism in Australia is not just economically but also environmentally sustainable.

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Nature-based Tourism, Environment and Land Management
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