Spatial variation in structural damage to a keystone plant species in the sub-Antarctic: interactions between Azorella selago and invasive house mice
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On Southern Ocean islands the effects of the house mouse on plants are not well understood. In particular, its influence at the landscape scale has largely been overlooked. To address this issue, we systematically mapped the distribution of a keystone, cushion plant species, Azorella selago, and mouse damage to it across Marion Island. Mouse damage was observed in a third of the sampled sites from sea level to 548 m a.s.l. Damage to individual cushions ranged from single burrows to the disintegration of entire cushions. Mouse damage was high in sites with low A. selago density, suggesting that in areas of low cushion density the impact of mice may be substantial. Moreover, it is not simply direct impacts on the A. selago population that are ecologically significant. Azorella selago cushions serve as nurse plants for many epiphyte species, so increasing the altitudinal range of a variety of them, and also house high densities of invertebrates especially in fellfield landscapes. In consequence, this study demonstrates that mice are having a significant, negative impact at the landscape scale on Marion Island, so adding to the growing list of species and ecosystem-level effects attributable to this invasive rodent.