The spatial patterning of Hieracium pilosella invaded short tussock grasslands.
Thesis DisciplineEnvironmental Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Hieracium pilosella is an invasive weed of New Zealand's short tussock grasslands. Since the 1960s, the abundance of H. pilosella has dramatically increased; it is now thought to occur in 6 million hectares of New Zealand (Espie, 2001), predominantly in grasslands. It is at least common in 42% of this area (Espie, 2001). Ecology is inherently spatial and as plants closely interact with their direct neighbours, the spatial arrangement of plants is vital to their functioning. A handful of recently published articles have implicated spatial structure of plant communities in theories of plant competition, resource use and the invasion of plant communities. The aims of this thesis were to: 1) determine if there are consistent spatial patterns in New Zealand's short tussock grasslands at relatively small scales (i.e. spatial relationships between individuals); 2) investigate how the invasion of H. pilosella may be altering these spatial patterns; and 3) establish if the spatial patterns of species, life-forms and root systems are being altered in different ways. Spatial patterns of both tussock and inter-tussock species, life-forms and root functional groups were evaluated at a range of short tussock grassland sites across a gradient of H. pilosella invasion levels in Canterbury, using both join-count statistics and Ripley's K-function. A classification system for the root functional groups of vascular species in these communities was developed and applied. It was found that species, life-forms and root functional groups in short tussock grasslands had generally consistent spatial patterns across sites both within and between species. These patterns were variable between significantly different levels of H. pilosella ground cover. The type of spatial pattern exhibited, and the way it was altered differed between species, life-form and root functional groups. For example, tussocks exhibited increased regularity up to scales of 160 cm and increasing aggregation at scales up to 500 cm, with increases in H. pilosella abundance. In contrast, both Agrostis capillaris and herbaceous chamaephytes had increased aggregation across scales up to 160 cm. These differences in spatial patterns along the gradient of invasion are a strong indication that H. pilosella is structurally fragmenting New Zealand's short tussock grasslands. This fragmentation is likely to have far reaching effects including the disturbance of invertebrate communities and the disruption of ecosystem services including pollination, vegetation regeneration, and nutrient cycling.