Vegetation Communities

​​​​​​Tasmania has a very a diverse range of habitats created by the large variation in altitude, water availability and soil types. As a result of this variability, Tasmania has a diverse and interesting mix of vegetation that broadly reflects an east to west change in climate conditions from the dry east coast to the wet west coast, and in geology from dolerite and granites in the east to quartzites in the west.

The vegetation of the west and southwest of Tasmania still contain significant elements of ancient Gondwanic vegetation including genera such as Nothofagus, Eucryphia, Phyllocladus and Lagarostrobos from the time when Australia was part of a larger landmass known as Gondwana. The drier east and north contains vegetation dominated by the more recent Australian element and is characterised by the dominance of the Eucalyptus genus.

There are several broad vegetation types within Tasmania including alpine vegetation, temperate rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest, dry sclerophyll forest, heathlands, wetlands and moorlands. These broad vegetation types are further divided into vegetation communities, of which there may be many within each type. Tasmania's vegetation communities are described in the publication From Forest to Fjaeldmark: Descriptions of Tasmania's Vegetation (Edition 2) which was developed to support the Tasmanian vegetation map - TASVEG.

Many vegetation communities within Tasmania are considered to be threatened.​​ This is largely a consequence of the way land has been managed in the past but also includes specific threats such as fire, clearing, weeds and diseases. The Tasmanian Bushcare Toolkit is a useful resource for land managers who would like to, or are currently managing, areas of native vegetation on their properties.

Protection for native vegetation is very important, particularly for vegetation that is threatened, and there are a number of options by which protection can be achieved. Such measures include formal reserves and various forms of legal and informal protection outside of reserves. There are also a number of voluntary programs available to assist land managers to protect as well as manage native vegetation.

The sections below provide a brief overview of the major vegetation communities within Tasmania. Each section also contains a number of links to more detailed information about that community. For more specific information on Tasmania's vegetation communities, including detailed descriptions and habitat maps, users are directed to the publication From Forest to Fjaeldmark: Descriptions of Tasmania's Vegetation (Edition 2).

Dry Eucalypt Forest and Woodland

Dry eucalypt forest and woodlands cover much of the central and eastern parts of the Tasmanian landscape, with the greatest diversity of eucalypt species in the south-east of the State. Understoreys are predominantly hard-leaved shrubs, and/or a ground layer dominated by bracken, grasses or graminoids.
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Highland Treeless Vegetation

Highland treeless vegetation communities occur within the alpine zone where the growth of trees is impeded by climatic factors. The altitude above which trees cannot survive varies between 700 m in the south-west to over 1400 m in the north-east highlands; its exact location depends on a number of factors and in many parts of Tasmania the boundary is not well defined. Sometimes tree lines are inverted due to exposure or frost hollows. Alpine vegetation is generally treeless, although there may be some widely scattered trees - generally less than two metres high. Several types of vegetation dominated by small trees, particularly conifers or shrubs, may occur in sheltered areas in the alpine zone.

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Marine Plant Communities

The wide range of rock types, tidal ranges and rainfall around Tasmania has produced an exceptionally wide variety of estuaries, coastal wetlands and lagoon types in a relatively small area. The combination of sheltered conditions and inputs from both marine and terrestrial sources means that wetlands, saltmarshes, intertidal seagrass meadows and other foreshore flats inside coastal inlets are also particularly rich in the variety and abundance of species of plant and animal life. These areas act as nurseries for many marine species and possess high productivity that supports flora and fauna.

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Moorland, Sedgeland, Rushland and Peatland

This category contains Sphagnum peatland vegetation and buttongrass moorland vegetation, both vegetation types which are generally less than two metres in height.

Sphagnum peatlands are distinguished by the dominance of moss from the genus Sphagnum in the ground layer. The overstorey vegetation may include sedges, cord-rushes, ferns, shrubs and occasional trees. 

Buttongrass moorland is vegetation dominated or co-dominated by buttongrass (Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus), other sedges (plants in the family Cyperaceae), cordrushes (plants in the family Restionaceae). Buttongrass moorland vegetation is defined to include associated vegetation communities such as alkaline pans, daisy pans and areas dominated by Diplarrena latifolia

Buttongrass moorland and Sphagnum peatland both occur in cool wet parts of Tasmania. Buttongrass moorland is extensive in western Tasmania, while Sphagnum peatlands occur most commonly in central Tasmania. The cool, wet acidic soils on which they both occur result in very slow decomposition of dead roots and leaf litter, which often results in the development of organic and peat soils.

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Native Grassland

Native grasslands are defined as areas of native vegetation dominated by native grasses with few or no emergent woody species. Different types of native grassland can be found in a variety of habitats including coastal fore-dunes, dry slopes and valley bottoms, rock plates, and subalpine flats. The lowland temperate grassland types have been recognised as some of the most threatened vegetation communities in Australia. Native grasslands occur where native grass cover is > 25% and includes lowland grassy sedgelands dominated by either Lomandra longifolia, Diplarrena moraea or Lepidosperma spp.

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Non-Eucalypt Forest and Woodland

Non-eucalypt forest and woodland communities are grouped together either because they are native forests and woodlands not dominated by eucalypt species, or because they do not fit into other forest groups. Functional attributes shared by many non-eucalypt communities are the widespread initiation of even-aged stands following fire and the ability to form closed-canopy forests. Some of these communities have been referred to as "dry rainforests". The boundaries between many of these communities are gradational, but some are sharply marked, often by changes in topography that reinforce different fire intervals. Some communities are distinctive in the field because one species dominates the canopy and forms a pure stand. The understorey in these communities is generally sparse and the dominant species are typically common components of many eucalypt-dominated communities and rainforest communities.

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Rainforest and Related Scrub

Tasmanian rainforest is structurally and floristically variable and is defined by the presence of species from any of the following genera: Nothofagus, Atherosperma, Eucryphia, Athrotaxis, Lagarostrobos, Phyllocladus or Diselma. Occasionally some understorey species, for example Anodopetalum biglandulosum or Richea pandanifolia, may occur as dominants. Rainforest often falls within the structural definition of closed-forest but some types, such as scrub rainforest and subalpine rainforests, do not fit this category. Rainforest occurs from sea level to about 1200m elevation. Tasmanian cool temperate rainforest has affinities with rainforests in south-east Australia, New Zealand and the Andean region of southern Chile and Argentina. One notable difference is that Tasmanian rainforest has a lower diversity of tree species.

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Saltmarsh and Wetlands

Saltmarshes and Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems on earth, fulfilling many environmental and socio-economic functions. They act as breeding grounds for many species of fish, water birds, amphibians and insects. Many wetlands are also important stopover points for migratory bird species. Plant communities in wetlands filter water and disperse heavy flow in times of flood. Saltmarshes are saline types of wetlands and occur predominantly on low-energy coastlines where wave action does not hinder the establishment of vascular plants. In Tasmania the best examples can be seen in sheltered inlets and bays on the east and south coasts; with other large areas present in the far north-west of the State and on some of the Bass Strait islands. These systems are also highly productive as they receive nutrient inputs from the land and are regularly flushed by the sea. 

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Scrub, Heathland and Coastal Complexes

Scrubs, heathlands and the diverse complexes that they can form when growing together are, with a few notable exceptions, typically dominated by scleromorphic species. The structure of these communities varies from very dense with 100% cover, to open with as low as 30% cover. They range in height from a few centimetres to over eight metres in favourable conditions.

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Wet Eucalypt Forest and Woodland

In Tasmania, wet eucalypt forests and woodlands generally occur below 1000 m altitude in areas where rainfall exceeds 1000 mm per annum, but they may also be found in drier regions in situations with a reliable water supply (e.g. wet gullies). When mature, the eucalypts are usually tall (in excess of 30 m) and form an open canopy that allows light through to the taller understorey plants. The  dense shade created by the understorey plants prevent all but the most shade tolerant rainforest species from regenerating within mature wet eucalypt forest.

The communities of wet eucalypt forest and woodland are distinguished by the dominant canopy eucalypt and the type of understorey. The understoreys in mature forests are usually dominated by rainforest trees and ferns such as Nothofagus, Atherosperma, Athrotaxis, Eucryphia, Phyllocladus, Lagarostrobos and Dicksonia antarctica. Such forest is known as mixed forest in Tasmania.  On fertile soils the understorey of young wet eucalypt forest is typically dominated by fire adapted broad-leafed trees and shrubs such as Pomaderris apetala, Nematolepis squamea, Olearia argophylla. These understoreys are known as broad leafed forest understoreys. On poorer soils the prickly, narrow-leafed trees and shrubs are usually more important in the understorey and commonly include genera such as Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Monotoca and the cutting grass Gahnia grandis. Acacia species may also be important in wet eucalypt forests, taller species (e.g. Acacia dealbata) often forming an open sub-canopy just below the eucalypt trees.

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Further Information:

Forest Practices Authority:

Contact

Natural Values Conservation Branch
134 Macquarie Street
HOBART TAS 7000
Phone: 03 6165 4319
Email: NaturalValuesConservation.Enquiries@dpipwe.tas.gov.au