Wind-controlled linear patterning and cyclic succession in Tasmanian Sphagnum mires
Morgan, SW and Kirkpatrick, JB and di Folco, M, Wind-controlled linear patterning and cyclic succession in Tasmanian Sphagnum mires, Journal of Ecology, 98, (3) pp. 583-591. ISSN 0022-0477 (2010) [Refereed Article]
1. We investigated the characteristics and causes of striped patterning in minerotrophic Sphagnum
cristatum mires on the western Central Plateau in Tasmania by surveying the mire vegetation, surface
and subsurface topography, analysing their topographic exposure to the prevailing strong
winds relative to non-striped mires, stratigraphic analysis, measurements of wind speed and direction
across and along ridges and swales in typical synoptic conditions, and measurement of growth
rates and asymmetry of shrubs.
2. The stripes were orientated south-west–north-east, independent of the aspect of the general
slope. The shrub Richea scoparia was dominant on the north-west-facing slopes of the low ridges
that formed the stripes. Sphagnum cristatum was dominant on the south-east-facing ridge slopes
and the restiad, Baloskion australe was dominant in the swales. The stripes were independent of the
topography of the underlying block stream. Striped mires were more exposed to both north-westerly
and south-westerly winds than non-striped mires.
3. Strong north-westerly winds formed rotors behind each ridge, with wind speed being highest on
the north-west-facing ridge slope and lowest on the south-east-facing ridge slope. The annual
growth of R. scoparia inversely reflected this variation in wind speed. South-westerly winds were
stronger in the swales than on the ridges and stronger on the south-west extremity of the ridges than
further to the north-east. Asymmetry in R. scoparia on the ridges reflected this variation in wind
4. We infer that the ridges slowly migrate in a cyclic successional pattern as the result of differential
growth rates of R. scoparia in response to variation in the speed of drying north-westerly winds. The
stripes appear to result from training of shrubs by strong, cold south-westerly winds, which also
inhibit the growth of R. scoparia in the swales.
5. Synthesis. There are no other documented cases of wind-controlled patterning and cyclic succession
in mires, and no case of exposure to two distinct wind directions being responsible for patterning
in any vegetation type. The distinctiveness of the process and the form merit recognition of these
striped mires as outstanding in their universal value under the world heritage area criteria.