New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1999) 23(1): 31- 38

Change in Hieracium populations in Eastern Otago over the period 1982-1992

Research Article
P. D. Johnstone 1
J. B. Wilson 2
A. G. Bremner 2
  1. AgResearch, Invermay Agriculture Centre, Private Bag 50034, Mosgiel, New Zealand
  2. Botany Department, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

Changes in Hieracium abundance in Eastern Otago tussock grassland were examined by sampling 163 sites in 1982 and again in 1992. For Hieracium pilosella, H. praealtum and H. lepidulum, as well as Agrostis capillaris for comparison, colonisation of new sites was recorded, as well as extinction of species from sites over the 10 years, and changes in cover. H. pilosella colonised the majority of sites from which it had been absent in 1982; it disappeared from only a few sites where it had been present at very low cover. In sites where it remained over the decade, its cover increased by 50%. Its rate of increase was very similar to that recorded for North Canterbury, but with no indication of the 34% stabilisation point that has been hypothesised for the latter area. H. praealtum and H. lepidulum, in contrast, remained absent from most sites, and colonised only a few; in very few sites was their cover greater than 1%. Agrostis capillaris was widespread and abundant, but increased little over the period. The sites where H. pilosella colonised tended to be degraded, with a greater, and increasing, percentage of bare ground and low tussock cover. The few sites where it disappeared were ones where pasture improvement had occurred, as seen in the increase of species indicative of pasture development. Several explanations are considered for the increase in H. pilosella in recent decades. The increase of this species in Eastern Otago has been greater than that of most other exotic species. Changes in land management have contributed to its increase, but probably changes caused indirectly by government policy, not gradual degradation. Genetic changes in the species, and metapopulation dynamics, have not been investigated, but they could well have contributed to Hieracium invasion.