An Assessment of Trampling Impact on Alpine Vegetation, Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, New Zealand
Thesis DisciplineEnvironmental Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The objectives of this study were two fold. The first was to quantify the nature and extent of current levels of human impact in alpine areas at four sites within Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks along walking tracks at Key Summit, Gertrude Saddle, Borland Saddle and Sugarloaf Pass. In order to do so, a survey was carried out with transects placed perpendicular to the track, and distributed among different vegetation types. In each transect, plant structural and compositional aspects, and soil and environmental parameters were measured. Transects were divided into track, transition, undisturbed and control zones, and changes to dependent variables were compared with distance from the track centre. Damage from visitor impact was largely restricted to within 1m from the track centre. The most significant impacts were to structural aspects of plant and soil properties with significant reductions in plant height, total vegetation cover and bryophyte cover, and increases in bareground and erosion on tracks. Erosion was more prevalent on slopes greater than 25°, while tracks on peat soils contained greater bareground exposure, particularly of organic soil. The second study objective was to investigate the relationship between specific levels of impact and the resulting damage to two key alpine vegetation types, tussock herb field and cushion bog. This was undertaken by carrying out controlled trampling experiments, measuring changes to plant structural and compositional aspects four weeks and one year after treatment. Both vegetation types saw dramatic reductions in total vegetation cover and height immediately after trampling, however overall composition and species richness varied little. These two alpine vegetation types showed moderate-low resistance to initial impact and low resilience, with very little recovery evident one year later. Research intothese two areas is important for managing visitor use within alpine areas in order to meet conservation and recreation goals. The survey indicates that alpine community types are very sensitive to visitor use, showing significant structural damage, however the spatial extent of impact is limited within the broader landscape. Instead, visitor impacts associated with tracks are likely to be more visually and aesthetically significant, influencing the visitor experience. The trampling experiments indicate that use levels over 25-75 passes per year within tussock herbfield and cushion bog vegetation on peat soils will result in ongoing damage to previously undisturbed sites. Methods for minimising impacts include limiting visitor numbers, public education in low impact practices, redirection of tracks and use to areas that are less sensitive, the dispersal of visitor activity at very low use intensities (less than 75 direct passes per year) and the concentration of activity on tracks above this level.