Interactions between a cushion plant (Azorella selago) and surface sediment transport on sub-Antarctic Marion Island
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On sub-Antarctic Marion Island cushions of the dominant vascular plant species, Azorella selago, interact with the geomorphology of fellfield landscapes by affecting sediment distribution and ultimately terrace formation. Here, to understand the consequences of Azorella cushions for substrate movement and sorting, we quantified the size and shape of Azorella cushions and the grain size distribution of sediment surrounding these cushions, using a combination of image analysis approaches. Results show that as cushions become larger, they tend to become more elongated and grow more perpendicular to the slope. Mean and variance of grain size were greater upslope of Azorella cushions, while the number of particles was higher downslope of cushions, although these differences were not significant at all sites studied. Differences between upslope and downslope particle sizes were, however, not related to cushion elongation or growth angle as had been expected. The observed sediment partitioning is likely caused by a combination of frost-related sediment transport and Azorella cushions acting as sediment obstructions. Understanding these interactions between Azorella cushions and the landscape is especially important in the light of recent warming and drying on the island, as particle size affects soil properties such as water-holding capacity and frost susceptibility.
- RESEARCH: McGeoch M