Huperzia update

Stop press…

At least in the eyes of those with a botanical interest in Macquarie Island.

Earlier this season, 2nd September, a story went to press describing the observations of Huperzia australiana, a small almost nondescript plant growing on the elevated feldmark here on the island. Our breaking story at that stage was able to report a significant increase in site records. 30 sites had been recorded by the end of MIPEP in April 2014; come forward in time to September 2016 – site records were almost 70.

Most recently however, site records have broken the 200 (currently 212 individual sites). Certainly a life without rabbits appears to be very much favouring the growth and expansion of this very small plant. 

As to why so many plants now – the jury is still out! Current abundance would suggest the plants were being grazed heavily by rabbits; its ultimate survival restricted to grazing enclosures and scattered locations.

From a human perspective this small epiphyte hardly rates a second glance. To a rabbit perhaps, it may have been a tasty morsel, or an accidental casualty as the rabbits greedily ate their way across the landscape. An alternate idea is that the species has an amazing regenerative capacity, this small epiphytic plant reproduces by spore, tiny propagules that are easily spread by the wind and that the re–colonisation of the species is occurring from a few scatter survivors.

Is Huperzia australiana a very important biological indicator of ecosystem health and the presence of the species now indicates a return towards ecological equilibrium? So much we don’t know about life after rabbits on the island. Watch this space – mind you in the context of the rapid changes in vegetation occurring on the island, this space will also be eagerly sought after as each species and vegetation community here on the island has its own story to tell. It’s all good news!

Chris Howard

Photo of Huperzia against a ruler
Pint-sized survivor
(Photo: Chris Howard)
Huperzia with a ruler for scale.
Size does not count.
(Photo: Chris Howard)