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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • competition;
  • facilitation;
  • neighbour removal;
  • species interaction

Abstract

This study examines the extent to which interactions among two common alpine/subalpine plant species and their neighbours at the Bogong High Plains in southern Australia are characterized by competition or facilitation. The two target species were Celmisia pugioniformis (Asteraceae) and Carex breviculmis (Cyperaceae). Biotic interactions were examined using vegetation removal manipulations over three growing seasons at five sites across the altitudinal range of tall alpine herbfield communities. Observations recorded growth and mortality. Results for C. pugioniformis clearly indicated facilitation as a dominant process across all sites and seasons. Plants that had their neighbours removed tended to perform worse than plants that had their neighbours left intact. Growth observations for Ca. breviculmis were less clear, but again suggested facilitation. Mortality was distinctly higher among Ca. breviculmis individuals that had their neighbours removed relative to those with neighbours left intact. Results collectively suggest the removal of neighbours acts to reduce growth and increase mortality in C. pugioniformis and Ca. breviculmis throughout the altitudinal range of tall alpine herbfields at the Bogong High Plains. Facilitative and competitive interactions need to be recognized in efforts aimed at mitigating climate change-associated impacts on the ecology of alpine plant communities. The extent to which biotic interactions may exacerbate or buffer abiotic change is difficult to predict, emphasizing the need for ecological monitoring.