Skip to main content Accessibility help

Spatial variation in structural damage to a keystone plant species in the sub-Antarctic: interactions between Azorella selago and invasive house mice

  • Ethel E. Phiri (a1), Melodie A. McGeoch (a2) and Steven L. Chown (a1)


On Southern Ocean islands the effects of the house mouse on plants are not well understood. In particular, its influence at the landscape scale has largely been overlooked. To address this issue, we systematically mapped the distribution of a keystone, cushion plant species, Azorella selago, and mouse damage to it across Marion Island. Mouse damage was observed in a third of the sampled sites from sea level to 548 m a.s.l. Damage to individual cushions ranged from single burrows to the disintegration of entire cushions. Mouse damage was high in sites with low A. selago density, suggesting that in areas of low cushion density the impact of mice may be substantial. Moreover, it is not simply direct impacts on the A. selago population that are ecologically significant. Azorella selago cushions serve as nurse plants for many epiphyte species, so increasing the altitudinal range of a variety of them, and also house high densities of invertebrates especially in fellfield landscapes. In consequence, this study demonstrates that mice are having a significant, negative impact at the landscape scale on Marion Island, so adding to the growing list of species and ecosystem-level effects attributable to this invasive rodent.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Anderson, G.D. & Condy, P.R. 1974. A note on the feral house cat and house mouse on Marion Island. South African Journal of Antarctic Research, 4, 5861.
Avenant, N.L. & Smith, V.R. 2003. The microenvironment of house mice on Marion Island (sub-Antarctic). Polar Biology, 26, 129141.
Barendse, J. & Chown, S.L. 2001. Abundance and seasonality of mid-altitude fellfield arthropods from Marion Island. Polar Biology, 24, 7382.
Bester, M.N., Bloomer, J.P., Bartlett, P.A., Muller, D.D., van Rooyen, M. & Buchner, H. 2000. Final eradication of feral cats from sub-Antarctic Marion Island, southern Indian Ocean. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 30, 5357.
Boelhouwers, J., Holness, S. & Sumner, P. 2000. Geomorphological characteristics of small debris flows on Junior's Kop, Marion Island, maritime sub-Antarctic. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 25, 341352.
Chapuis, J.L., Boussès, P. & Barnaud, G. 1994. Alien mammals, impact and management in the French Subantarctic islands. Biological Conservation, 67, 97104.
Chown, S.L. & Cooper, J. 1995. The impact of feral house mice at Marion Island and the desirability of eradication: Report on a workshop held at the University of Pretoria, 16–17 February 1995. Pretoria: Directorate Antarctica and Islands, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
Chown, S.L. & Froneman, P.W., eds. 2008. The Prince Edward Islands. Land-sea interactions in a changing ecosystem. Stellenbosch: African SunMedia, 450 pp.
Chown, S.L. & Scholtz, C.H. 1989. Biology and ecology of the Dusmoecetes Jeannel (Col. Curculionidae) species complex on Marion Island. Oecologia, 80, 9399.
Chown, S.L. & Smith, V.R. 1993. Climate change and the short-term impact of feral house mice at the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands. Oecologia, 96, 508516.
Chown, S.L., Gremmen, N.J.M. & Gaston, K.J. 1998. Ecological biogeography of southern ocean islands: Species-area relationships, human impacts, and conservation. American Naturalist, 152, 562575.
Chown, S.L., McGeoch, M.A. & Marshall, D.J. 2002. Diversity and conservation of invertebrates on the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands. African Entomology, 10, 6782.
Copson, G.R. 1986. The diet of the introduced rodents Mus musculus L. and Rattus rattus L. on Subantarctic Macquarie Island. Australian Wildlife Research, 13, 441445.
Davies, S.J., Chown, S.L. & Joubert, L.S. 2007. Renewed management system and provisions for South Africa's sub-Antarctic islands. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 141, 115120.
Ferreira, S.M., van Aarde, R.J. & Wassenaar, T.D. 2006. Demographic responses of house mice to density and temperature on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Polar Biology, 30, 8394.
Frenot, Y., Gloaguen, J.C., Picot, G., Bougére, J. & Benjamin, D. 1993. Azorella selago Hook. used to estimate glacier fluctuations and climatic history in the Kerguelen Islands over the last two centuries. Oecologia, 95, 140144.
Frenot, Y., Chown, S.L., Whinam, J., Selkirk, P.M., Convey, P., Skotnicki, M. & Bergstrom, D.M. 2005. Biological invasions in the Antarctic: extent, impacts and implications. Biological Reviews, 80, 4575.
Gleeson, J.P. 1981. The ecology of the house mouse, Mus musculus Linnaeus, on Marion Island. MSc thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 112 pp.
Gleeson, J.P. & van Rensburg, P.J.J. 1982. Feeding ecology of the house mouse Mus musculus on Marion Island. South African Journal of Antarctic Research, 12, 3439.
Gremmen, N.J.M. 1981. The vegetation of the subantarctic islands Marion and Prince Edward. Dr.Junk, W.The Hague, 149 pp.
Hedding, D.W. 2006. Geomorphology and geomorphological responses to climate change in the interior of sub-Antarctic Marion Island. MSc thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 99 pp.
Howald, G., Donlan, C.J., Tershy, B.R., Croll, D.A., Russell, J., Saunders, A. & Clout, M. 2007. Invasive rodent eradications on islands. Conservation Biology, 21, 12581268.
Hugo, E.A. 2006. Spatial patterns in the microarthropod community associated with Azorella selago (Apiaceae) on the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Island. PhD thesis, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, 162 pp.
Huntley, B.J. 1972. Notes on the ecology of Azorella selago Hook. f. Journal of South African Botany, 38, 103113.
Huyser, O., Ryan, P.G. & Cooper, J. 2000. Changes in population size, habitat use and breeding biology of Lesser Sheathbills (Chionis minor) at Marion Island: impacts of cats, mice and climate change? Biological Conservation, 92, 299310.
Jones, A.G., Chown, S.L. & Gaston, K.J. 2003. Introduced house mice as a conservation concern on Gough Island. Biodiversity and Conservation, 12, 21072119.
le Roux, P.C. & McGeoch, M.A. 2004. The use of size as an estimator of age in the subantarctic cushion plant, Azorella selago (Apiaceae). Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, 36, 509517.
le Roux, P.C. & McGeoch, M.A. 2008. Changes in climate extremes, variability and signature on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Climatic Change, 86, 309329.
le Roux, V., Chapuis, J.-L., Frenot, Y. & Vernon, P. 2002. Diet of the house mouse (Mus musculus) on Guillou Island, Kergeulen archipelago, Subantarctic. Polar Biology, 25, 4957.
McGeoch, M.A. & Gaston, K.J. 2002. Occupancy frequency distributions: patterns, artefacts and mechanisms. Biological Reviews, 77, 311331.
McGeoch, M.A., le Roux, P.C., Hugo, E.A. & Chown, S.L. 2006. Species and community responses to short-term climate manipulation: microarthropods in the sub-Antarctic. Austral Ecology, 31, 719731.
McGeoch, M.A., le Roux, P.C., Hugo, E.A. & Nyakatya, M.J. 2008. Spatial variation in the terrestrial biotic system. In Chown, S.L. & Froneman, P.W., eds. The Prince Edward Islands. Land-sea interactions in a changing ecosystem. Stellenbosch: African Sun Media, 245270.
Meiklejohn, K.I. & Smith, V.R. 2008. Surface areas of altitudinal zones on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Polar Biology, 31, 259261.
Mortimer, E., McGeoch, M.A., Daniels, S.R. & van Vuuren, B.J. 2008. Growth form and population genetic structure of Azorella selago on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Antarctic Science, 20, 381390.
Nyakatya, M.J. 2006. Patterns of variability in Azorella selago Hook. f. (Apiaceae) on sub-Antarctic Marion Island: climate change implications. MSc thesis, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, 127 pp.
Nyakatya, M.J. & McGeoch, M.A. 2008. Temperature variation across Marion Island associated with a keystone plant species (Azorella selago Hook. f. (Apiaceae)). Polar Biology, 31, 139151.
Smith, V.R. 1978. Plant ecology of Marion Island: a review. South African Journal of Antarctic Research, 8, 2130.
Smith, V.R. & Steenkamp, M. 1990. Climatic change and its ecological implications at a subantarctic island. Oecologia, 85, 1424.
Smith, V.R., Avenant, N.L. & Chown, S.L. 2002. The diet and impact of house mice on a sub-Antarctic island. Polar Biology, 25, 703715.
Smith, V.R., Steenkamp, M. & Gremmen, N.J.M. 2001. Terrestrial habitats on sub-Antarctic Marion Island: their vegetation, edaphic attributes, distribution and response to climate change. South African Journal of Botany, 67, 641654.
Towns, D.R. & Broome, K.G. 2003. From small Maria to massive Campbell: forty years of rat eradications from New Zealand islands. New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 30, 377398.
van Aarde, R.J. & Jackson, T.P. 2007. Food, reproduction and survival in mice on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Polar Biology, 30, 503511.
van Vuuren, B.J. & Chown, S.L. 2007. Genetic evidence confirms the origin of the house mouse on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Polar Biology, 30, 327332.
Verwoerd, W.J. 1971. Geology. In van Zinderen Bakker, E.M., Winterbottom, J.M. & Dyer, R.A., eds. Marion and Prince Edward Islands. Report on the South African biological and geological expedition 1965/1966. Cape Town: A.A. Balkema, 4062.
Wanless, R.M., Angel, A., Cuthbert, R.J., Hilton, G.M. & Ryan, P.G. 2007. Can predation by invasive mice drive seabird extinctions? Biology Letters, 3, 241244.
Watkins, B.P. & Cooper, J. 1986. Introduction, present status and control of alien species at the Prince Edward Islands. South African Journal of Antarctic Research, 16, 8694.
Yeloff, D., Mauquoy, D., Barber, K., Way, S., van Geel, B. & Turney, C.S.M. 2007. Volcanic ash deposition and long-term vegetation change on Subantarctic Marion Island. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 39, 500511.
Zimmerman, D.L. & Zimmerman, M.B. 1991. A comparison of spatial semiviogram estimators and corresponding ordinary kriging predictors. Technometrics, 33, 7791.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Spatial variation in structural damage to a keystone plant species in the sub-Antarctic: interactions between Azorella selago and invasive house mice

  • Ethel E. Phiri (a1), Melodie A. McGeoch (a2) and Steven L. Chown (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.