New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1995) 19(2): 175- 194

The vegetation of Flat Top Hill: An area of semi-arid grassland/shrubland in Central Otago, New Zealand

Research Article
Susan Walker  
Alan F. Mark  
J. Bastow Wilson  
  1. Botany Department, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

An account is given of the vegetation of Flat Top Hill, in the driest part of semi-arid lowland Central Otago, New Zealand. Although highly modified, the area was acquired for conservation in 1992, following almost 150 years of pastoral use. The vegetation was sampled in a composite scheme using permanent monitoring sites placed to include the majority of habitats and communities present. A number of environmental factors were measured in each sample. Native species comprise 53% of the vascular flora of the area (211 species). From multivariate analyses of the data collected over three seasons, fourteen 'communities' are recognised. Although there are few constant or faithful species, strong relationships are shown with certain environmental parameters. Moisture stress is the major environmental influence on the vegetation; soil depth and past disturbance are secondary determinants. The communities differ by a factor of 10 in vascular species richness; the richest communities, and those with the greatest native component, are those around rock tors. Many of the communities present have not been reported from other vegetation surveys in Central Otago Moisture stress at xeric sites in the dry core of the region has excluded some exotic species, and allowed the survival of the native component, including three tiny spring ephemerals. Near elimination of grazing, as a result of reservation, will probably lead to an increase in the cover of taller, palatable exotic grasses and Thymus vulgaris, which may threaten the survival of some native species. Optimum management, for recovery or persistence of native species, may comprise exclusion of grazers in some areas, but continuity of grazing in others.