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Research Interests

  • Ecology, conservation and environmental management of indigenous vegetation, especially of tussock grassland, forest, lakeshore, wetland and alpine ecosystems.
  • The conservation status of New Zealand's indigenous grasslands.
  • History of the development and use of our tussock grasslands.

Sample of Recent Publications

Poster presented at Ecological Society of America Millenium Conference 2009: Water-Ecosystem Services, Drought and Environmental Justice. Athens, Georgia.

Maximising water yield with indigenous tall tussock (bunch) grassland on new Zealand uplands and trade-offs with alternative land uses

Provision of clean, freshwater is an essential ecosystem service that is under increasing pressure worldwide from a variety of conflicting demands. Water yields differ in relation to land-cover type. Successful resource management therefore requires accurate information on yields from alternative vegetation types to adequately address concerns regarding water production. Of particular importance are upper watersheds/catchments, regardless of where water is extracted. Research in New Zealand has shown that, when in good condition, indigenous tall tussock grasslands can maximize water yield relative to other vegetation cover types. A long-term hydrological paired-catchment study revealed reductions (up to 41% after 22 years) in water yielded annually from an afforested catchment relative to adjacent indigenous grassland. Furthermore, a stable isotope assessment showed that water from fog may substantially contribute to yield in upland tussock grasslands. The tall tussock life-form and its leaf anatomy and physiology, which minimize transpiration loss, appear to be the differentiating factors. Thus, maintaining dominance of such cover is important for water production, especially in upland catchments. Ecological analogues and integrated land-use planning are discussed in the context of this essential ecosystem service. Water management programs in other countries are reviewed and that of South Africa is commended as a model.

Altitudinal patterns of vegetation, flora, life forms, and environments in the alpine zone of the Fiord Ecological Region, New Zealand

The altitudinal zonation patterns of vegetation structure, vascular flora, and life/growth forms were comprehensively assessed in relation to temperature and soil factors from treeline (1040 m) to the high-alpine summit of Mt Burns (1645 m) in southeastern Fiord Ecological Region. We tested Körner's hypothesis which stipulates that the physiognomic zonation pattern: treeline, shrubline, tussockline, and beyond, is driven mainly by increased decoupling between the ambient temperature and that experienced directly by plants in relation to proximity of their canopy to the ground. This hypothesis is generally supported, particularly with replacement of the tussock life form by dwarfed, mostly cushion species, at the low- to high-alpine zone transition. The soil pattern appears to be more of a response to, rather than a driver of, the alpine vegetation pattern, including a localised area of frost-active olifluction terraces. The Nothofagus menziesii treeline conformed to the “warmest month” model and also with a worldwide growing season mean (7.15°C) of 5.5–7.5°C. We stress the closer analogy in the overall alpine zonation pattern in this region of oceanic New Zealand to that of the tropical high mountains and other oceanic regions, than with the temperate Northern Hemisphere continental mountains.

Regional Summary: New Zealand Temperate Grasslands Conservation Hohhot, China, June 28-29, 2008


Alan Mark among flowering snow tussocks (Chionochloa rigida).
Flagstaff, Dunedin, 2006.


Lord, J. M., Mark, A. F., Humar-Maegli, T., Halloy, S. R. P., Bannister, P., Knight, A., & Dickinson, K. J. M. (2018). Slow community responses but rapid species responses 14 years after alpine turf transplantation among snow cover zones, south–central New Zealand. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution & Systematics, 30, 51-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ppees.2017.07.004

Dickinson, K. J. M., Barratt, B. I. P., Lord, J. M., & Mark, A. F. (2017). Does unpredictability in alpine climatic conditions favour biotic fitness in a changing world? Proceedings of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) 102nd Annual Meeting. OOS 26-3. Washington, DC: Ecological Society of America. Retrieved from

Mark, A. F., Molau, U., Whigham, P., Little, L., & Nielsen, J. (2016). Periglacial tarn on the Rock and Pillar Range crest, south-central South Island, New Zealand, and its surrounding snowbank community. Austral Ecology, 41(3), 282-290. doi: 10.1111/aec.12310

Mark, A. F., Korsten, A. C., Urrutia Guevara, D., Dickinson, K. J. M., Humar-Maegli, T., Michel, P., … Lord, J. M., … Nielsen, J. A. (2015). Ecological responses to 52 years of experimental snow manipulation in high-alpine cushionfield, Old Man Range, south-central New Zealand. Arctic, Antarctic & Alpine Research, 47(4), 751-772. doi: 10.1657/AAAR0014-098

Mark, A. F. (2015). Standing my ground: A voice for nature conservation. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press, 284p.

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