Environmental correlates of vegetation patterns and species richness in the northern Grampians, Victoria



Abstract Plant species cover-abundance and density data were collected for 94 sample plots across a gradient from rocky uplands to sandy outwash plains in the northern part of Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park in western Victoria. Detrended correspondence analysis (DCA) was used to identify dominant gradients in species composition. A range of static (e.g. substrate type, soil depth, microclimate indicators) and dynamic (e.g. elapsed time since last fire) environmental variables were measured. Correlations were sought between these variables and vegetation patterns including those for richness (R) and Shannon-Weiner diversity (H′).

The dominant gradient of vegetation change identified by DCA separated rocky sites and sites near ephemeral streams, from well-drained, sandy sites. Secondary gradients identified time since last fire as important for sandy sites, and altitude and aspect-related microclimate for rocky sites. Diversity was highest in the first 2 years after fire but showed no further decline in older sites. Overall, R and H' were negatively correlated with soil nutrient concentrations. On sandy sites R was high, but was low on rocky sites and near streams. Within the rocky sites, R was highest on cool, moist south and east slopes, and lowest on hot, dry north and west slopes. Explanations of diversity patterns based on inhibition of competitive exclusion due to stress and recurrent disturbance best fit the results presented here.