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01.12.2013 | Ausgabe 6/2013

Environmental Management 6/2013

Trampling Impacts on Thermotolerant Vegetation of Geothermal Areas in New Zealand

Zeitschrift:
Environmental Management > Ausgabe 6/2013
Autoren:
Bruce R. Burns, Jonet Ward, Theresa M. Downs

Abstract

Geothermal features such as geysers, mud pools, sinter terraces, fumaroles, hot springs, and steaming ground are natural attractions often visited by tourists. Visitation rates for such areas in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand are in the order of hundreds of thousands annually. These areas are also habitat for rare and specialized plant and microbial communities that live in the steam-heated soils of unusual chemical composition. We evaluated historical and current trampling impacts of tourists on the thermotolerant vegetation of the Waimangu and Waiotapu geothermal areas near Rotorua, and compared the results to experimental trampling at a third site (Taheke) not used by tourists. Historical tourism has removed vegetation and soil from around key features, and remaining subsoil is compacted into an impervious pavement on which vegetation recolonization is unlikely in the short term. Social tracks made by tourists were present at both tourist sites often leading them onto hotter soils than constructed tracks. Vegetation height and cover were lower on and adjacent to social tracks than further from them. Thermotolerant vegetation showed extremely low resistance to experimental trampling. This confirms and extends previous research that also shows that thallophytes and woody shrubs, life forms that dominate in thermotolerant vegetation, are vulnerable to trampling damage. Preservation of these vulnerable ecosystems must ensure that tourist traffic is confined to existing tracks or boardwalks, and active restoration of impacted sites may be warranted.

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