Recreational trampling negatively impacts vegetation structure of an Australian biodiversity hotspot
journal contributionposted on 10.08.2021, 01:15 by S Mason, D Newsome, S Moore, Ryan AdmiraalRyan Admiraal
Recreational trampling damage of natural vegetation is an increasing problem in the global context and has the potential to impact on vegetation communities that are of high ecological and socio-economic interest. Wildflower tourism in the national parks of southwest Australia, a global biodiversity hotspot, has the potential to damage the flora on which it depends through trampling. Little research has been previously undertaken in these largely shrub-dominated communities to identify and quantify such impacts. This study is the first to do so, using observational studies of tourists, a descriptive study, and trampling experiments. The behaviours of independent tourists and tour groups were observed. Of the 213 independent visitors observed 41 visitors left trails to view flowers and in the process trampled vegetation. Vegetation height and cover were measured at three sites frequented by wildflower tourists. Vegetation height and cover declined in response to use by tourists. Trampling experiments, which relied on trampling treatments of 0, 30, 100, 200, 300/500 passes, where 0 passes represents the control, were applied at four sites. Trampling led to a significant reduction in vegetation height immediately post-treatment, for all treatments, with a non-significant recovery over time. Trampling also significantly reduced vegetation cover, with the resistance indices for these experimental sites ranging from 30 to 300 passes. Collectively these results illustrate the low resilience and resistance of these valued communities and the possible impacts of wildflower and other nature based tourism, through trampling. The paper concludes with suggested management strategies, which strongly emphasise the importance of education for the tourism industry and provide for international comparisons in regard to recreational trampling impacts on biodiverse shrub land communities.