Australian Institute of Alpine Studies

Newsletters

No. 7 January 2000

Contents


First annual meeting of the Australian Institute of Alpine Studies

Abstracts

Kosciusko Alpine Flora

Late Pleistocene Glaciation of the Kosciuszk Massif, Snowy Mountains, Australia

A Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments

Tropical Glaciers

Upcoming PhD Project

Theses

Application Form


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First annual meeting of the Australian Institute of Alpine Studies

The first annual meeting of the Australian Institute of Alpine Studies was held at Jindabyne on 9/12/99. It was a largely informal get together with 19 scheduled talks and long scheduled tea breaks and lunch. Due to flu and other disasters there was some re-scheduling with Gen Wright stepping in to cover for Trish Macdonald with an outline of the Alps Biodiversity Project; Jo Clarke gave a rundown on the Australian Alps Scientific Sites Database, and Stuart Johnston stepped in to pass on information from the ANU on some sediment and glaciological work being done at Blue Lake (see abstract by Barrows et al. later). Dave Hunter gave Will Osborne’s talk and there were two other ‘no shows.’ Apart from that the program went pretty much as was advertised. Graeme Enders (acting Regional Manager, Snowy Mountains Region) welcomed everyone and then, following Catherine Pickering’s talk, we progressed through four sessions dealing with pest species, botany, zoology and finally human impacts. The CRC for Sustainable Tourism Mountain (Mountain Tourism subprogram) funded the morning and afternoon teas and lunch (on-ground organisation by Stuart Johnston) and NPWS/CRC funded the dinner at a local Thai Restaurant (organised by Mary Green).

The talks are summarised later in the newsletter but the main aim and value of the meeting was to find out what everyone was doing and to make links between researchers doing similar projects – or dissimilar projects but with equipment, field sites etc that could be shared. As such it was a great success with a high degree of cross fertilisation of ideas with the venue becoming very much a research hybrid zone. With a few notable exceptions, most members present turned up for the group photograph outside the Jindabyne Visitor’s centre.
AIAS members
Back Row: Jo Clarke, Graeme Enders, David Hunter, Richard Baker, Genevieve Wright, Tristan Armstrong, Karen Sanecki, Pascal Scherrer, Glenn Sanecki, Jackie Ford and John Field Middle Row: Markwell Drury, Linda Broome, Megan Ryan, Hazel Rath. Richard Greene, Peter Arkle, Catherine Pickering, John Banks Ken Green Front Row: Frances Johnston, Andrew Growcock, Caroline Kelly

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Kosciusko Alpine Flora

The four authors of the 1979 Classic ‘Kosciusko Alpine Flora’, Alec Costin, Max Gray, Colin Totterdell and Dane Wimbush met in the Snowy Mountains in the middle of December 1999 to discuss its republication by CSIRO Publishing. The aim of the trip was to confirm the presence of new plants (both native and exotic) that have established within the alpine area since the original publication, and to check some species in the field which have recently undergone taxonomic changes. Colin Totterdell also took the opportunity to photograph additional species for the new edition. Publication is set for November this year. The meeting was also a good opportunity for some socialising and to re-examine some Main Range study sites.

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Late Pleistocene Glaciation of the Kosciuszko Massif, Snowy Mountains, Australia.
Barrows, T.T.1, Stone, J.O.2, Fifield, L.K.3, Cresswell, R.G.3
1. Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, ACT, 0200, Canberra, Australia Tim.Barrows@anu.edu.au
2. Quaternary Research Center/Department of Geological Sciences, University of Washington, United States of America
3. Department of Nuclear Physics, Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering, Australian National University, ACT, 0200, Canberra, Australia

The Kosciuszko Massif in the Snowy Mountains represents the only area of irrefutable recent glaciation on the Australian mainland. However, there has been considerable controversy dating back to the 19th century as to the extent and timing of the glaciation. To review the evidence, we remapped glacial landforms on the Massif and found that the maximum extent of glaciation was within the ‘probable’ limits drawn by R. Galloway in 1965. There is evidence for at least 2 glaciations, the first consisting of at least one advance and the second consisting of at least three advances. To place numerical ages on the glaciations we exposure-dated 24 boulders from the moraines sequences at Blue Lake and Lake Cootapatamba, making them some of the best dated moraines in the Southern Hemisphere. The exposure dating technique is based on measuring the accumulation of cosmogenic isotopes in minerals from rock surfaces, in this case 10Be in quartz. The dates indicate that the first glaciation, the most extensive, occurred ~55-65,000 years ago. The last glaciation consisted of three advances which were progressively less extensive and occurred between ~15,000 and ~35,000 years ago. These data represent a significant advance in our knowledge of cold climates in southeastern Australia. In particular, the presence of glaciation at these altitudes indicates that the end of the last Ice Age was accompanied by warming of at least 6-9 degrees, suggesting that the area is sensitive to climate change.

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GLORIA: A Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments

GLORIA is designed as a contribution to international observation initiatives such as DIVERSITAS (mountain program), GTOS, IGBP (mountain workplan), the European 5th framework program etc.Considering the high indicator potential of alpine biota for observing the effect of climate change, the Austrian Ministry of Science and Transport has launched a feasibility study on how the observation of high mountain biota could be extended to a global observation network based on simple permanent plots. Research plots would be arranged along altitudinal gradients or on summits of different elevation in a particular region. At some places where the necessary infrastructure is available a more sophisticated approach should be established (Master Stations). For more details see the text below or/and the web page: http://www.pph.univie.ac.at/gloria/gloria.html

Ecosystems of high mountains that are determined by low temperatures are generally considered as being particularly sensitive to climate warming. Therefore, high mountain ecosystems appear to be useful as ecological indicators of climate change because they have comparatively low biotic complexity, and abiotic factors (particularly climate), dominate over biotic factors such as competition. Hence, climate change impacts on alpine and nival vegetation are expected to be more pronounced than on vegetation at lower altitudes. In addition, impacts of human land use, which could mask climate-related signals, are largely negligible in many high mountain regions. The thermal life zones are compressed and their temperature-determined ecotones are narrow compared to the horizontal/latitudinal transition zones at lower altitudes. Therefore, these narrow mountain ecotones are appropriate for an effective quantification of expected vegetation changes. Finally, high mountain systems can be found in all major zonobiomes from tropical to polar latitudes. This favours their use for a global comparison of climate change effects on biocoenoses in temperature-limited environments.

GLORIA was initiated by the Austrian IGBP/GCTE-research at the Department of Vegetation Ecology and Conservation Biology of the University of Vienna by Harald Pauli, Michael Gottfried, Karl Reiter and Georg Grabherr. The initiative originated from their studies of climate change effects on vascular plants in the alpine and nival vegetation belt of the European Alps since the beginning of the 1990s. A re-investigation of historical plots at high summits of the Eastern Alps provided evidence that climate-induced upward-migration of mountain plants was under way. A detailed transect study at the alpine-nival ecotone gave new insights into vegetation patterns close to the altitudinal limits of vascular plants and on possible future migration pathways. The principal objective of GLORIA is to establish a network of permanent observation sites over a global transect across the major zonobiomes. This would provide - for the first time - standardised reference data for a global-scale long-term monitoring of climate change-induced effects on natural ecosystems. GLORIA will focus on "Target Regions" in all major mountain systems having natural environments from the treeline or the lower alpine belt upwards to the nival belt within a comparatively small area. Two approaches are suggested within GLORIA:

1) the "single-mountain approach", which investigates one mountain per Target Region with special emphasis on transect studies across sensitive ecotones, and

2) the "multi-summit approach", investigating summits of different altitude in each Target Region with the focus on an altitudinal comparison of ecological patterns.:

The generation and the testing of appropriate field methods for GLORIA have been conducted at the Department of Vegetation Ecology and Nature Conservation of the University of Vienna, and are supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences from the national IGBP/GCTE budget. The first GLORIA-meeting to reach this important steppingstone towards a successful international co-operation is planned for September 2000. The Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Transport conducted a feasibility study on how GLORIA could be extended to a global observation network. The study was conducted with a half year contract from June to November 1999 to address the following questions:

a) Combined with a call for contribution, is the global scientific community adequately motivated to implement such a network ?

b) Are there existing research structures and co-operations to build a network of partner groups ?

c) Is the field method, developed for the Multi Summit-Approach, suitable for a global application (according to its dimension, particularly related to time- and cost-effectiveness)?

In total, 88 leading experts replied in a very positive way. This includes the impressive number of 60 potential partners or partner groups with the intention to actively contribute in a high mountain Target Region (TR). Currently, 65 TR are in the list - comprising the majority of the earth's zonobiomes. The highest density of TR was reached in Europe (33 TR) followed by South America (12), Africa (6), North America, incl. Greenland (6), Asia (4), Australia/Pacific (3) and Antarctica (1).

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Tropical Glaciers

A U.S. Global Change Research Program seminar on November 16, 1999 entitled "Sensitivity of the Tropics to Global Climate Warming: Evidence and Implications": was presented by Alan Mix from Oregon State and Lonnie Thompson from Ohio State.

Two points to come from this are that past global climate change seems to have started in the tropics first, also that tropical glaciers are receding and at current rates all tropical glaciers will be gone in twenty years. Additional information is available on the web:U.S. Global Change Research Program http://www.usgcrp.gov/

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Australian Institute of Alpine Studies First Annual Meeting abstracts

Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Subprogram in Mountain Tourism
Dr Catherine Pickering

The CRC for Sustainable Tourism has recently established a subprogram focusing on mountain tourism. The goal of this subprogram is to enhance the environmental, cultural and economic sustainability of mountain tourism. Research projects have been established that involve the University of Canberra, Griffith University, La Trobe University, University of Tasmania, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Parks Victoria, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Thredbo Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Snowy Mountains, and resorts in NSW and Victoria. Some of the projects that may be of particular interest for the Alps Institute include those examining visitor monitoring in the summit area of Mt. Kosciuszko (Stuart Johnston), the impact of human activities on alpine vegetation (Pascal Scherrer), the ecology of yarrow (Frances Johnston), snow characteristics and vegetation (Caroline Kelly), and a review of environmental sustainability issues for mountain tourism in Australia (Catherine Pickering).

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Ecology of the weed Achillea millefolium in alpine and subalpine habitats of Koscuiszko National Park
Frances Johnston

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a quick spreading perennial introduced to Australia from Europe and Western Asia. In Kosciuszko National Park it has behaved as a sleeper weed for many years. Populations rapidly increased during the 1990’s with A. millefolium now found in alpine, subalpine, montane and tableland environments. It is currently found in many areas of the subalpine primarily along roadsides, tracks and around buildings and ski lodges. It is also found in the alpine in currently or previously disturbed sites such as the walking tracks. From these areas it is spreading into the surrounding natural vegetation. Achillea millefolium exhibits many of the features of native vegetation including herbaceous perennial life history, seed dormancy at low temperatures, drought resistance, rapid growth even at low temperatures, underground rhizomes, frost resistance, insect pollination, and vegetative reproduction. Yarrow also has many of the characteristics of the ideal weed such as high seed production, rapid seedling growth, wide tolerance to environmental conditions, vegetative reproduction and strong competitive ability. The production of rhizomes allow it to spread into and consolidate its hold in existing vegetation, increasing its competitiveness for light, water and minerals while providing a high density in which the plants are interconnected, so decreasing the risk of elimination. It also allows rapid spread of individuals in new areas. Yarrow also produces large amounts of seed which remain dormant in the soil for many years. The seed is spread by wind , disturbance and animals. Seed readily germinates and seedlings rapidly establish with favourable conditions. Yarrow’s biological and ecological characteristics, as well as limited success with chemical control, means that this weed poses a real threat to the native vegetation of the alpine and subalpine. Project goals 1. Review the current status of yarrow and other weeds in the Australian Alps and the role of different types of human disturbance have on their ecology. 2. Examine the genetics of the yarrow populations found in KNP. 3. Examine the impact of altitude on growth, phenology, spread and reproductive output of yarrow. 4. Distribution and abundance of yarrow in KNP. 5. How disturbance may contribute to the establishment and spread of yarrow. 6. Compare the biological and ecological characteristics of yarrow to natives. 7. Contribute to the control and management strategies of yarrow in a National Park context.

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Population ecology of feral horses in the Australian Alps
Michelle Walter

Horses are a feral species capable of damaging the unique and natural values of the Australian Alps. They are also of cultural interest. It has been shown in central Australia and other places around the world, that research into their biology (relevant to impact and control) not only improves management, but helps to abate conflict between interest groups. The current study commenced in 1999 and will continue for three years. It has three components: distribution and abundance across the Australian Alps national parks; population dynamics; and factors limiting population growth. Preliminary results are available for the first two components. 1) Feral horses are not uniformly distributed across the Alps. The most extensive population occurs between Thredbo, NSW and Buchan, Victoria. The second most extensive population occurs north of the Snowy Mountains Highway in northern Kosciuszko. There are smaller scattered populations elsewhere in the Alps. Total abundance will be estimated from aerial surveys in 2001. 2) Demographic parameters will be measured each spring and autumn at three sites for three years using Pollock’s robust design. Population estimates for spring 1999 are 73 (+/-2SE) for Currango (~40km2), 57 (+/-1SE) for The Big Boggy (~40km2) and 80 (+/-12SE) for Cowombat (~25km2). When more results are available, models will be fitted to the data to assess future trends in the population under different scenarios.

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The Ecology of Speciation: Alpine Buttercups, a case study
Tristan Armstrong

Ecological and phylogenetic investigations of Australian Alpine Buttercups (Ranunculus spp., Sect. Chrysanthe) have shown that, although recently speciated and entirely intercompatible, these taxa are maintained as discrete evolutionary units through intense habitat selection. This finding has important management implications. Artificial cross pollinations between all species and over multiple hybrid generations have revealed no intrinsic barriers to the production of viable hybrid offspring (and therefore introgression). Overlapping flowering periods, shared pollinator species and widespread interspecific transfer of pollen all facilitate the production of hybrid seed. However, this seed fails to establish in areas dominated by the parental species due to intense habitat selection. A large field selection trial involving all parental species and artificially produced F1 hybrids strongly supports this model. The results of this trial are in contrast with results from plantings into disturbed soils, where habitat selection breaks down and all genotypes perform equally well, suggesting that habitat integrity is crucial for the continued maintenance of the species. Phylogenetic analysis using nuclear and chloroplast DNA regions reveals the Australian alpine species to be a recently diverged group, possibly of Pleistocene origin. The group is closely allied to species in alpine New Guinea, and it has been hypothesised that the group arrived in Australia via long distance bird mediated dispersal.

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Frost hollow - why are they important
John Banks

Over the last three decades the Forestry Department at ANU has undertaken research in the high country. Topics have included tourism, climate, fire histories, soils, and in alpine, subalpine, montane and riverine forests vegetation studies. Whilst the quantity hasn't been great, we believe we've made a small but significant contribution to the interpretation and management of these ecosystems. The department also uses this region each year as an important teaching resource for undergraduates and professional short courses. In short we have a real and continuing interest in the Alps. One area of particular interest to day is the frost hollows, their occurrence, plant species and dynamics. They lie scattered across the mountains especially in the subalpine zone. We've see frost hollows as an almost forgotten yet an important physiographic-climatic feature in the Alps worthy of study and interpretation. Frost hollows are better developed here in the Australian high country than perhaps anywhere else in the world. The reason for this lies largely in the fact that eucalypts which dominate the surrounding forest possess only limited tolerance to low temperatures compared with worldwide subalpine tree flora. The frost hollow phenomenon was first described in the Snowy Mountains by McLuckie and Petrie in 1927. Later Costin (1954) designated the grassland which dominates the frost hollows as the Poa caespitosa - Danthonia nudiflora Alliance comprising some five plant associations. Similar grasslands have been recorded in Tasmania, the Victorian Alps, the ACT, and the Barrington Tops in the Hunter region of NSW. These treeless grasslands are of various sizes and shapes occurring in valleys possessing configurations that are conducive to the generation and ponding of cold air masses, eg Long Plain, 17 Flat and Nungar Plain, all in northern end of Kosciuszko National Park at around 1300 m elevation, with some at lower elevations intruding up to 300m down slope into the montane zone. Frost hollows, as their name suggests, are maintained as grasslands bounded by an inverted treeline by periodic freezing temperatures. In winter -15į C and in summer as little as -5įC effectively eliminates tree seedlings (and saplings) from the frost hollow sometimes leaving a zone of lignotuberous seedlings at their margins. The trees forming the inverted treeline are dominated by Eucalyptus pauciflora, with minor occurrences of E. stellulata, E. rubida and E. lacrimans. The killing temperatures occur on cloudless still nights when sky radiation in the grassland is maximised generating cold air masses which accumulate in valley bottoms. In our studies we have recorded temperatures approaching -30įC, far in excess of that needed to maintain a treeless community. By comparison, in comparable sites in the northern hemisphere, conifers and deciduous broadleaf species readily survive these low temperatures being more cold hardy, and the causal factors determining treeless valleys are often primarily edaphic or anthroprogenic. For this reason the Australian Alps has some of the most spectacular treeless frost hollows making then a significant feature worthy of study and preservation. Historically grazing interests first came upon these grassed and well watered frost hollow valleys in the early 1840's in their desperate search for pastures during the great drought of that time. Subsequently, for over a century, graziers competed for and utilised these valleys to the full until park management took over. Unfortunately some areas still remain to this day on stock routes, eg Long Plain. During the grazing era the grasslands were variously modified and in some instances greatly expanded by burning and ring-barking the adjacent forest. Since grazing was removed many of these man-made grasslands have been slow to reforest. As a result, inverted treelines have been fragmented and areas capable of generating cold air increased. Frost hollows in the Alps offer unique opportunities for the study of plant succession and cold tolerance, dynamics of the inverted treeline, soil status, and climate fluctuations.

Studies on or related to frost hollows
To date these include: 2 Phd's, 3 Honours theses, 1 subthesis, 2 refereed papers and 4 unpubl. Studies. Examples listed below Banks, JCG 1982 Snow gum dynamics. Phd. Harewood, C 1983 - cold tolerance of snow gum Phd. Paton, D.M. 1988 Genesis of the inverted treeline. AJB Trevitt,, C Tanton,M.T., Paton,D.M., 1990's Banks. JCG. - cold air flow patterns on Starvation Flat, Long Plain and Nungar Plain. unpubl. Banks, JCG. Paton, D.M. 1992 Low temperature as an ecological factor in eucalypt forests Denman, T. 1992 Inverted treelines Nungar Plain. Special Topics undergraduate project Hedonstroen, S. 1994 Edaphic attributes of the inverted treeline Hons thesis Shields, B.1996 Towards understanding dieback in snow gum Hons thesis Smith, 1997 Snow Gum tree ring studies Hons thesis Banks, JCG. & Smith, 1998 Snow gum and climate change Conference paper unpubl.

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Effects of habitat fragmentation on small mammal movements
Glenn Sanecki

Habitat fragmentation is a term typically associated with human processes which modify the landscape such that areas of relatively contiguous habitat are divided into smaller more isolated patches separated by a modified matrix often hostile to those species that occurred there originally This model of fragmentation is not generally applicable to Kosciuszko National Park; rather, narrow linear features such as roads, management trails, walking tracks and ski trails cause fragmentation. Although such features may not have a significant effect on larger animals, they can serve to disrupt the movement of smaller less mobile animals. Work undertaken during 1999 showed that small mammals including Rattus fuscipes and Antechinus swainsonii were significantly affected by the presence of linear disturbances down to 3m in width through subalpine woodland. These species structure their movement at a fine resolution such that during day to day movement they show a preference for covered habitat and avoid open areas. Research into the effects of fragmentation will continue within the park and will include the longer term effects of linear disturbances, the effects of compressed oversnow routes on the contiguity of the subnivean habitat and the effects of changing snow conditions on small mammal habitat.

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Foxes, rats fish and frogs
Ken Green

Fox scats were collected over the past three years monthly on a transect at 1500-1600m on Disappointment Spur and a Snowy Mountains Authority aqueduct and also along the summit road to Mt. Kosciuszko. The diet of foxes in the alpine zone was found to be less linked to in situ primary and secondary production than it was in the subalpine zone; berries grasshoppers and beetles constituted a greater percentage of food remains at subalpine than alpine altitudes where a higher proportion of food remains were from Bogong Moths. Whilst Bogong Moths are important food in spring and summer in the alpine and subalpine zone they are also of importance in autumn but only in the alpine zone, possibly as a result of altitudinal migration of remaining moths as the season progresses. Since the publication of a paper examining both the diet of foxes and the concurrent local food availability (Green and Osborne 1981) there has been intermittent criticism of one of the key findings of that paper: selective predation on the Broad-toothed Rat, Mastacomys fuscus, relative to predation on the more common Bush Rat Rattus fuscipes. The collection of scats over the past three years confirms a higher predation on M. fuscus Analysis of trapping results confirms that M. fuscus is not trap shy. The study this summer therefore addresses the other possible area of the argument: within the range of the sampled foxes is the extent of habitat of M. fuscus significantly greater than that of R.fuscipes?

The Mountain Galaxias (Galaxias olidus) is a small minnow-like fish occurring from sea level to close to the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko. In the mountains it has a widespread, though fragmented distribution largely due to the effect of introduced trout. Rock climbing by this species was first reported by Green (1979). An observation of an active Mountain Galaxias lying on the ice of Blue Lake (1880m) in October 1997 led to the present project to determine the thermal benefits of this behaviour. Heliothermy is the most common mode of thermoregulation in reptiles in the alpine region, and the alpine thermocolour grasshopper (Kosciuscola tristis) changes colour according to body temperature. Fish have a problem in that, immersed in water, any heat gain from darker colouration and sunbasking whilst in the water will be lost to the water by conduction. Climbing therefore serves two purposes: accessing the higher reaches of small streams and sunbasking.

The known high altitude population of Alpine Tree Frogs at the time the UV-B program commenced (see next abstract) was confined to two man-made ponds and one natural pond with two calling males. Currently we are undertaking a translocation of this species to reduce the risk of stochastic processes causing its extinction at these locations. The aim of the program is to re-establish the Alpine Tree Frog in its previously occupied high altitude sites and at the same time to examine the causes of mortality experimentally. In the past two summers, the lack of water in ponds would have been sufficient to cause zero recruitment. Translocations will continue associated with further experiments to examine the impacts of UV-B and drought.

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The sensitivity of alpine frogs to ambient UV-B radiation – an update
Will Osborne, Dave Hunter, Ken Green

The precipitous worldwide declines of amphibian populations at high altitudes suggests a ubiquitous causal agent that is related to altitude. Of these an increased passage of ultraviolet radiation with increased altitude has been implicated overseas. Increases in UV-B radiation due to ozone depletion is likely to have a significant impact on the Australian Alps, because of its middle latitude and its relatively high altitude. At alpine altitudes in the Snowy Mountains there are two species of frogs, the Alpine Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxii alpina) and the Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera). In the last 15 years Litoria v. alpina has disappeared entirely from the alpine zone; by contrast, C. signifera remains abundant at all altitudes. Tadpoles raised from eggs in nine water tanks in the Thredbo Valley at three altitudes from the valley floor to the Crackenback Range showed differential levels of mortality depending on whether or not they were protected from UV-B radiation. However, an experimental translocation of L. v. alpina into natural pools at 2100m in 1997/98 resulted in at least 25% of tadpoles reaching a stage close to metamorphosis.

As a result of this, the aim of the 1998/99 experiment was to examine growth rate and survivorship of eggs and tadpoles in a number of natural ponds at varying altitudes under natural conditions and under conditions of total UV-B exclusion. Fifty eggs were placed in the centre of each of two paired enclosures (one was randomly allocated a UV filter) at three ponds each at Rawsons Pass (1930m), Lake Albina (1920m), Pipers Creek (1520m) and Rennix Gap (1590m) and in four paired enclosures at the control site at Sponars Inn (where the eggs originated ).

UV-B radiation measurements, water samples and data on vegetation and water temperature were collected at all ponds. Survivorship was calculated before metamorphosis in mid-December, tadpoles were dipnetted from enclosures until no more could be seen and then measured, weighed, counted and returned to the pond as part of the translocation program (see above). Preliminary statistical analysis of the results confirms the results of the 1997/98 experiment with a significant effect of UV-B exclusion on survivorship with increasing altitude.

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Early life-history mortality in the Southern Corroboree Frog, Pseudophryne corroboree
David Hunter

As part of the recovery program for the critically endangered Southern Corroboree Frog, Pseudophryne corroboree, levels of embryonic and tadpole mortality were determined for individual clutches in several populations over three breeding seasons. Levels of recruitment through to the spring tadpole stage were also determined for a large range of remnant populations over two breeding seasons. The results of the detailed monitoring were similar across all three breeding seasons and between all sites. Low levels of mortality were observed during the pre-winter embryonic stage and post-winter tadpole stage for nearly all clutches monitored. In contrast to this, the majority of clutches exhibited much higher levels of mortality during the over-winter embryonic and tadpole stage. Overall survivorship to metamorphosis ranged from 0-30% which, given the low clutch size of this species, translates to very low numbers of individuals surviving through to the terrestrial frog stage. High levels of early life-history mortality were also indicated from the survey of recruitment levels across a large portion of extant populations. This survey indicated that one third of all remnant populations are attaining no survivorship through to metamorphosis, with the majority of other populations attaining only very low levels. These results strongly implicate early life-history mortality as a major factor restricting the recovery of and contributing to the continued decline of P. corroboree.

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The Occurrence and Importance of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) in the Alpine area of Kosciuszko National Park
Stuart Johnston, Megan Ryan and Markwell Drury

Recent research by Stuart Johnston and Megan Ryan has shown that arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are present in the roots of the majority of plants in tall alpine herbfields. The fungi often occupy up to 60% of root length. However, snow grass growing on disturbed sites where soil erosion has recently begun to occur had considerably less AMF colonisation than snow grass in undisturbed areas. Possible reasons for this lower colonisation include high zinc levels in these areas, extreme temperature and soil moisture conditions, and loss of AMF inoculum due to soil erosion. Lower AMF levels may result in poor plant growth and survival. Hence, research this summer will investigate this area further with the aim of determining whether AMF need to be considered when designing revegetation programs in the alps. An honours study by Markwell Drury (ANU) will form part of this project.

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Environmental education and tourism: Providing effective visitor information in the alpine region
Kirsty McMaster

The aim of this research is to determine the effectiveness of different methods of communicating information (both educational and safety information) to tourists visiting the alpine region of Kosciuszko National Park. Information sources include: outdoor signs, brochures, maps, the Snowy Region Visitors Centre and the Sawpit Creek Educational Centre. The project will examine the existing sources of information and their effectiveness and ways to improve the dissemination of information to visitors in the Park. Research methods include the observation and monitoring of visitor behaviour and visitor surveys to be conducted in the alpine region and the Visitors Centre. This research will be beneficial for the future management of Kosciuszko National Park in regards to providing effective educational and safety information to visitors and promoting sustainable tourism.

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Tourists in the Summit area of Mt Kosciuszko:- An assessment of interaction and impacts
Peter Arkle

Breaking the Australian tradition of "a summer holiday at the beach", The Kosciuszko National Park has been experiencing a dramatic increase in Summer Visitation Levels. Latest data suggest that Summer Visitors may make up as high as 45% of year round park users (NPWS:1999). These changing tourism trends can be attributed to enhanced recreational opportunities, extensive marketing and improved park infrastructure attracting a wider range of visitors. The opportunity to walk to the highest point in Australia, the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, represents a major focus for many visitors to the National Park. This Honours project will attempt to gauge the actual number of tourists visiting the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko, determining how such tourist are interacting and congregating around the summit area and quantifying the actual damage that is occurring as a consequence of current visitation levels. The research will comprise a visitor survey program, observational counts and series of measurements attempting to gauge surface soil and vegetation conditions. The study site will be broken into 8 study plots representing four distinct surface conditions (successful re-vegetation works, trampled re-vegetation works, degraded conditions and un-impacted conditions). Research will gauge actual visitor pressure on individual plots and relate these finding to the surface conditions that can be observed within these areas. It is hoped that the research will provide some crucial data and information for the new summit management plan as well as assisting in more sustainable tourist management around the summit and throughout the entire alpine area of Kosciuszko National Park.

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Impacts of human activities on the alpine zone vegetation of Kosciuszko National Park.
Pascal Scherrer

The vegetation of the alpine zone of Kosciuszko National Park has been exposed to various pressures since the 1830s. Grazing, tourism and most recently human induced climate change have altered, or have the potential to alter, the natural ecosystems of the area. This project examines the changes in the distribution of vegetation that have occurred since the cessation of grazing, firstly by analysing transect data that have been collected over a period of 30 years and, secondly, by re-mapping the visual vegetation communities of the alpine zone from current aerial photography. A geographic information system (GIS) will be used to compare the past and current distribution of the plant communities. The areas directly affected by tourism activities will be assessed by mapping the tracks and trails and using experimental measures to determine width of disturbance effects caused by visitor activities. Finally, quadrat data will be collected to test the composition of the current vegetation communities and to model future changes in their distribution.

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Upcoming Honours

Project Ecological Change as a Result of Tourism: The effect of snow manipulation on the vegetation of the Australian Alps.
Caroline Kelly

Ski tourism is a rapidly expanding industry in Australia. Shorter seasons, increasing temperatures, and less consistent snow conditions, have resulted in a reduction of snow cover available for winter tourism. This situation has resulted in the expenditure of considerable effort and money on improving the quality and quantity of snow cover. Snow manipulation comprises snow ploughing, grading, harvesting and more recently the establishment of snow fences and other artificial structures designed to accumulate snow in specific areas. The manipulation of snow has been found to result in a cascading series of changes including; alteration of microclimate, soil, hydrology and secondary biological effects such as changes in soil biota, herbivory, feral animal activity, pollinator activity and increased weed establishment. Limited studies have been carried out that directly address the impact of snow manipulation on vegetation. This study will examine the likely direct and indirect impacts of snow manipulation on the vegetation of the Australian Alps. Potential mitigation measures will also be investigated.

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Theses

Two theses have recently been added to the Snowy Mountains Region Library a Masters by Hazel Rath and an Honours by Andrew Growcock – the abstracts follow:

Hazel Rath
Determination of some parameters that limit the distribution of Ranunculus anemoneus.

The distribution, habitat requirements and biological potential of an endangered buttercup, Ranunculus anemoneus, found only in Kosciuszko National Park were studied. Selective grazing by stock before the alpine area was gazetted as a National Park resulted in a dramatic population decline. While it has made a recovery over the last forty years, the extent of this recovery was unknown.

Survey data collected in January 1997 demonstrates that the species is found on a wide range of soils, aspects, geology and differing hydrology regimes but there is a preference for steep, moist slopes with a southerly aspect. Drainage lines and channels or where surface water flows are directed by rocks, are also characteristics of preferred sites. The percentage cover of R. anemoneus on sites varied between isolated individuals to 11.3%. There are no linear relationships between the percentage cover of R. anemoneus and site variables.

Pollen limitation may occur in some seasons. Fruit set was less under autogamous conditions but increased by supplementing outcross pollen. Fruit set was lower at Charlottes Pass (1850 metres) than at Rawson Pass (2100 metres). Diptera were the most common order of floral visitors. Insect visitation rates and importance of floral visitors differed between the two elevations. Mean insect visitation rate per hour was 3.8 at Charlottes Pass with Sawflies (Pergidae) and Bushflies (Muscidae) having an equal rank of importance in visitation frequency (27.9%). At Rawson Pass, the mean visitation rate was 4.5 per hour with Fruitflies (Tephritidae) the most important pollinators (40.6%). Further monitoring is needed to determine reasons for low seedling establishment and survival rates.

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Andrew Growcock
Ski industry development in Kosciuszko National Park: a comparison of slope hydrology

The direct and indirect effects of continued slope development by the ski industry have been investigated with consideration to hydraulic properties, soil types and vegetation at a local level. These alterations were considered through the comparison of the "Front Valley" slope of Perisher Valley and a slope in the adjacent catchment of Betts Creek, which is relatively undisturbed.

The results of this study showed significant differences in all of the variables considered. At the Betts Creek site, peat soils and thick vegetation covers of Sphagnum act to maintain a long term water supply and mediate the effects of snow melt and heavy rainfalls.

However, at the Perisher Valley site, the natural vegetation and peat soils have been removed during slope development, with indirect alteration continuing as a result of snow compaction activities. This has lead to increased infiltration rates, lower soil water capacities and increases in erosion potential during periods of snow melt.

These findings indicate that the most valuable factors affecting water distribution in subalpine areas are soil type (whether peat soils or otherwise) and condition, and the associate vegetation which assists in developing these soils. The current management processes in Perisher Valley however, have reduced the opportunity for climax bog vegetation to re-establish and so present hydraulic movements and conditions in Perisher Valley site that are unlikely to change.

These processes may be improved through reducing the intensity of use in some ski slope areas and through having ‘edge areas’ on the ski slope to encourage natural vegetation regrowth. This may act to rebuild the soil and mediate rapid surface water movements.

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