Managing invasive plants on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.
The Antarctic region is one of the most inhospitable frontiers on earth for weed invasion. On Australia's world heritage sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island only three species of invasive weeds are well established (Poa annua L., Stellaria media (L.) Vill. and Cerastium fontanum Baumg.), although isolated occurrences of other species have been found and removed. These weed species are believed to have initially been introduced through human activity, a threat which is likely to increase, although strict biosecurity is in place. All three weeds are palatable and may have been suppressed to some extent by pest herbivore (rabbit) grazing. Given the high conservation value of Macquarie Island and threats to ecosystem structure and function from weed proliferation following rabbit eradication, well targeted invasive plant control management strategies are vital. We propose that a successful restoration program for Australia's most southerly rangeland ecosystem should integrate both control of non-native plants as well as non-native herbivores. Of the non-native plants, S. media may most easily be managed, if not eradicated, because of its more limited distribution. Little, however, is known about the soil seed bank or population dynamics after rabbit eradication, nor the effect of herbicides and non-chemical control methods in cold conditions. A current research project on this non-grass species is helping to fill these knowledge gaps, complementing and building on data collected in an earlier project on the ecology and control of the more widespread invasive grass, P. annua. With an interest in off-target herbicide impacts, our work also includes a study of the movement and fate of herbicides in the cold climate Macquarie Island soils. Research in such a remote, cold, wet and windy place presents a range of logistical challenges. Nevertheless, outcomes are informing the development of effective, low-impact control or eradication options for sub-Antarctic weeds.