Australian Alps

Australian Alps

Australian Alps, chain of mountain ranges, SE Australia, making up the southern part of the Eastern Highlands and forming the watershed between the Murray River system and streams flowing into the Tasman Sea. It is the site of the Snowy Mts. hydroelectric project. Mt. Kosciusko (7,316 ft/2230 m) in the Australian Alps is the highest peak in Australia.
Alps, Australian: see Australian Alps.

The Australian Alps montane grasslands is a montane grassland ecoregion of Australia, restricted to the montane regions of south-eastern Australia above 1300 metres (the upper altitudinal limit of Eucalyptus pauciflora). This region occupies less than 3 % of the Australian landmass and straddles the borders of the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and New South Wales on the Australian mainland, as well as a significant element in Tasmania. On the Australian mainland, the Australian Alps montane grasslands are surrounded at lower elevations by the Southeast Australia temperate forests ecoregion.

The montane grasslands consist predominantly of species of Poa (snow grass), usually associated with closed and open shrublands of Orites, Grevillea, Prostanthera, and Hovea. At the highest elevations, these mosaics may give way to a fjeldmark or, in zones where snow lies into the summer months, to a snow patch community. Sphagnum bog communities of Sphagnum cristatum and Empodisma minus (spreading rope-rush) occur in stream beds or other low-lying areas.

The occurrence of grasslands represents an ecological climax condition, the culmination of a cycle of colonisation of bare ground by woody shrubs which provide protection for seedlings of grass species. The shrubs senesce after 40 to 50 years, leaving a closed canopy.

This is an ecoregion generally thought to experience long periods of minimal disturbance prior to European settlement. Since the 19th century, grazing and an increased incidence of fire have resulted in a reduction in range condition, and extensive damage to bog communities, from which plant communities have been slow to recover. Most of the region is now contained in large contiguous National Parks.

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