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Application of palynology to describe vegetation succession in estuarine wetlands on Great Barrier Island, northern New Zealand

by admin last modified 2006-11-21 03:31 AM

Deng Y, Ogden J, Horrocks M, Anderson S. 2006. Journal of Vegetation Science 17, 765-782.


Question This paper compares published palynological studies from coastal swamps containing the same suite of species. We ask the following questions: (1) does succession follow the same pathways in different swamp systems, or (2) at different times? If not, (3) how variable are the patterns and (4) what are the likely driving factors?

Location Great Barrier Island, Northern New Zealand.

Methods Eighteen pollen profile diagrams were studied from four estuarine wetlands, ranging from mangroves to swamp forest. Recognition of a transition between vegetation stages was by subjective consideration of the relative abundances of pollen of key indicator species at different depths in the sedimentary sequence.

Results A linear sequence of vegetation communities beginning with mangroves and followed by estuarine marsh communities composed of Juncus kraussii, Leptocarpus similis, and Baumea juncea was recognised in almost all pollen diagrams. Further transitions, from Baumea to a terrestrial system of Leptospermum shrubland or Cordyline/Dacrycarpus swamp forest, followed two main pathways associated with autogenic accumulation of peat and terrigenous sediment input respectively. At Kaitoke and Awana the marine/freshwater transition occurred before the arrival of humans on Great Barrier Island. At Whangapoua, increased sedimentation followed anthropogenic burning of adjacent forest, and this transition was faster and is still in progresses.

Conclusion Palynology and current vegetation zonation patterns concur to demonstrate that the marine sedimentation phase of estuarine succession is predictable and linear. Baumea juncea marks the transition to the freshwater phase, in which varied successional patterns are determined by interactions between hydrology, sediment input, and peat accumulation. Natural and human disturbances drive sedimentation rates, and interact with autogenic factors, to dictate vegetation transitions in these later stages. The intensive impact (mainly burning) during Polynesian times had a much greater effect on estuaries and swamps than the pre-Polynesian natural processes, greatly accelerating plant succession.

Key words

Palynology, hydrarch succession, human impact, estuaries, mangrove, New Zealand.

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