An assessment of feral horse impacts on treeless drainage lines in the Australian Alps.
The feral Horse (Equus caballus) is widespread across the Australian Alps. Feral horses degrade alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems and damage habitat of a range of threatened species. Despite this, there is little published work to document the extent and severity of these impacts. This study investigated impacts of feral horses on treeless drainage lines at 186 sites across the Australian Alps. The study included sites in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria. We assessed nine variables related to soil and stream stability and vegetation cover, which in turn influence ecosystem function and habitat quality. We found significant differences among horse-occupied and horse-free sites for all soil and stream stability variables assessed. For all variables assessed, the average score (and hence, condition) was worse in horse-occupied areas. The sites in poorest condition were occupied by horses. Impacts from other mammalian herbivores species appeared to be minor. Management intervention is necessary if these impacts of feral horses are to be addressed.