Ecological importance of sedges: a survey of the Australasian Cyperaceae genus Lepidosperma

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Abstract

Background

Sedges (Cyperaceae) form an important ecological component of many ecosystems around the world. Sword and rapier sedges (genus Lepidosperma) are common and widespread components of the southern Australian and New Zealand floras, also occurring in New Caledonia, West Papua, Borneo, Malaysia and southern China. Sedge ecology is seldom studied and no comprehensive review of sedge ecology exists. Lepidosperma is unusual in the Cyperaceae with the majority of species occurring in dryland habitats.

Scope

Extensive review of ecological literature and field observations shows Lepidosperma species to be important components of many ecosystems, often dominating understorey and sedge-rich communities. For the first time, a detailed ecological review of a Cyperaceae genus is presented.

Conclusions Lepidosperma

species are long-lived perennials with significant abundance and persistence in the landscape. Speciation patterns in the genus are of considerable interest due to complex biogeographical patterns and a high degree of habitat specificity. Potential benefits exist for medicinal products identified from several Lepidosperma species. Over 178 organisms, including 26 mammals, 42 birds, six reptiles, five amphibians, eight arachnids, 75 insects, three crustaceans and 13 fungi, are found to be dependent on, or making use of, Lepidosperma species. A significant relationship exists between Lepidosperma species and the moth genus Elachista. Implications for the conservation and ecology of both sedges and associated species are discussed.

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