Catastrophic disturbance and vegetation on Little Slope, Lord Howe Island


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Little Slope is a series of debris avalanche deposits below basalt cliffs 700 m high at the southern end of Lord Howe Island (31°35′S 159°05′E). There are five distinct physiographic areas on the slope, each separated by sharp boundaries which mostly correspond to boundaries between features on the cliffs above. The physiography is a consequence of a series of landslides of different, but unknown, ages. A model of the physiographic history is presented. Each physiographic area supports a different vegetation community, also separated by sharp boundaries. The present structure of two communities, Melaleuca howeana scrub and Howea forsterana forest, is a consequence of damage by feral animals. Melaleuca scrub has replaced Cyperus lucidus sedgeland destroyed by goats (Capra hircus) browsing from 1914 until their extermination in 1955. Howea forest has a markedly unimodal age distribution with very few small individuals of the dominant palms. This is a result of the combined effects of browsing by goats on small palms, and seed predation by black rats (Rattus rattus) from the 1920s, preventing regeneration. Unless rat numbers are periodically reduced to reduce seed predation, regeneration may be insufficient to guarantee long‐term survival of the forest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-170
Number of pages10
JournalAustralian Journal of Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1982
Externally publishedYes


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