Cool fact…
Humans truly are 'privileged visitors' to Heard Island. The Island supports colonies of millions of seals and seabirds, but there have only been around 240 shore-based human visits since 1855, most of which occurred during the late 19th century sealing era.

Plant communities

Wet mixed herbfield vegetation
Wet mixed herbfield vegetation. Photo by K. Kiefer (Photo: Kate Kiefer)
Open cushion carpet vegetationMossy feldmark vegetationWet mixed herbfield vegetationCoastal biotic vegetation and gentoo penguinsClosed cushion carpet vegetation

Six vegetation communities are currently recognised at Heard Island:

  • Open cushion carpet
  • Mossy feldmark
  • Wet mixed herbfield
  • Coastal biotic
  • Salt spray
  • Closed cushion carpet

Numerous other vascular plant species and vegetation communities and species found on other subantarctic islands north of the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone are missing from Heard Island, although it is possible that some may colonise the island if climate change produces more conducive conditions.

Open cushion carpet vegetation

This is the most widespread and abundant vegetation community found on Heard Island. It is characterised by Azorella selago cushions interspersed with bryophytes, small vascular species and bare ground (20–75% cover). It is mostly found at altitudes of 30-70 metres above sea level.

Mossy feldmark vegetation

Species richness is high in this community, which consists of bryophytes and small Azorella selago cushions and is found at medium to high altitudes (30–150 metres above sea level) in areas with intermediate exposure.

Wet mixed herbfield vegetation

Wet mixed herbfield vegetation occurs on moist substrate, mostly on moraines and moist lee slopes (often in association with burrowing petrels colonies) at low altitude (<40 metres above sea level) where the water table is at or close to the surface. Species richness is the highest of all the communities, with dominant species being Poa cookii, Azorella selago, Pringlea antiscorbutica, Acaena magellanica, and Deschampsia antarctica.

Coastal biotic vegetation

Coastal biotic vegetation is dominated by Poa cookii and Azorella selago, and occurs mainly on coastal sites of moderate exposure and in areas subject to significant influence from seals and seabirds.

Salt spray vegetation

This vegetation community is dominated by the salt-tolerant moss Muelleriella crassifolia and is limited in extent, being found at low elevations (less than 5 metres above sea level) on lavas in exposed coastal sites.

Closed cushion carpet vegetation

Closed cushion carpet vegetation is found on moraines and sand at altitudes mostly below 60 metres above sea level. It can be subject to some burrowing by seabirds, and is dominated almost entirely by Azorella selago cushions, which often grow together to form continuous carpets.

This page was last updated on 28 February 2005.