Alpine and subalpine snow patch vegetation on the Bogong High Plains, SE Australia

Authors


Corresponding author; E-mail dick.williams@terc.csiro.au

Abstract

Abstract. Snow patch vegetation in Australia is rare, being restricted to the relatively small area of alpine and subalpine country in the highlands of southeastern Australia. Snow patch vegetation occurs on steeper, sheltered southeastern slopes, where snow persists until well into the growing season (December/January). We surveyed the vegetation of 33 snow patch sites in the alpine and subalpine tracts of the Bogong High Plains, within the Alpine National Park, in Victoria. The vegetation was dominated by herbs and graminoids, with few shrubs and mosses. Major structural assemblages identified included closed herb-fields dominated by Celmisia spp, and grasslands dominated by Poa fawcettiae or Poa costiniana. These assemblages occurred on mineral soils. Open herb-fields dominated by Caltha introloba and several sedge species occurred on rocky and stony substrata. Vegetation-environment relationships were explored by ordination and vector fitting. There was significant variation in the floristic composition of snow patch vegetation as a function of duration of snow cover, altitude, slope and site rockiness. Alpine sites were floristically distinct from subalpine sites, with a greater cover of Celmisia spp. and a lesser cover of low shrubs in the former. There was floristic variation within some snow patches as a function of slope position (upper, middle or lower slope) but this was not consistent across sites. The current condition of snow patch vegetation on the Bogong High Plains is degraded, with bare ground exceeding 20% cover at most sites. Snow patch vegetation is utilized preferentially by domestic cattle, which graze parts of the Bogong High Plains in summer. Such grazing is a potential threat to this rare vegetation type.

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