New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2002) 26(2): 95- 106

Changes in vegetation states in grazed and ungrazed Mackenzie Basin grasslands, New Zealand, 1990-2000

Research Article
Colin D. Meurk 1
Susan Walker 2,*
Roger S. Gibson 3,5
Peter Espie 4
  1. Landcare Research, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin, New Zealand
  3. Landcare Research, P.O. Box 282, Alexandra, New Zealand
  4. AgResearch, Private Bag 50 034, Mosgiel, New Zealand
  5. Present address: Swann Rd, R.D. Cromwell, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Changes in vegetation from 1990 to 2000 were examined at 10 high country localities, representing four grassland types: fescue tussock (Festuca novae-zelandiae), snow tussock (Chionochloa rigida), red tussock (C. rubra), and silver tussock (Poa cita). At each locality, three treatments were established: ambient sheep+rabbit grazing, rabbit grazing only, and no grazing. The mutivariate methods of classification and ordination were used on individual-quadrat cover data to define vegetation states and to examine transitions between them over time. Vegetation states in quadrats already dominated by Hieracium pilosella(> 50% cover) in 1990 showed little change in species composition regardless of grassland type and grazing treatment. In fescue tussock grassland, H. pilosellaincreased regardless of grazing treatment in states with low initial H. pilosellacover (< 5%), while the cover of Carex colensoi, Aira caryophyllea and Rumex acetosella decreased. In the single silver tussock locality, Poa citadecreased markedly in the ungrazed treatment as adventive species such as Dactylis glomerataand Echium vulgare increased. However, Poa citaalso decreased, probably due to drought, in the grazed treatment. Snow tussock and red tussock grassland states were more stable than those in short tussock grasslands, but there was also a general trend towards increasing H. pilosellacover in intertussock vegetation regardless of treatment. However, at one snow tussock locality, transitions from H. piloselladominated to C. rigida-dominated states occurred in ungrazed quadrats, while the reverse occurred in grazed vegetation. Implications for the management of tussock grasslands for conservation are discussed.