Franz Josef has one of the most accessible glaciers in NZ, the other being Fox Glacier, a few miles beyond. Climate change is pushing the glaciers back at an incredible and saddening rate. If it continues to melt, within thirty years, there may not be any glaciers left at all. The tourist hook line is as follows.
"The most accessible rivers of ice in the world, plunging down through rainforest almost to sea level."
Sadly, this isn't really true any more. It might have been true maybe even twenty years ago, but now, most of the walk to the glacier is over grey moraine, through the carved out glacial valley that remains. The rainforest stops well before the glacier's terminus. In fact, it's to the far right of this photo.
What there still is though, interestingly, for a seemingly lifeless place, is an unusual environment for invertebrates.
This guy below was found just fifteen metres from the glacial terminus.
The land has only been exposed for a few years at most. The springtail is most likely a Tullbergia genus, a sightless genus living solely underground.
As you can see from the photo, there's no soil on the stone I flipped over. What there is, is a newly exposed glacial till, a mix of rubble and mineral-rich grey paste, basically stone dust and water. This can provide just enough substrate for algae and bacteria to begin to break open nutrients in the rock. Provided with a food source, Collembola are often the first animals to come in and take advantage of the new ecosystem. They produce enough frass or excreta and body matter en mass to begin the process of soil build up. As evidenced by the colour of the gut, showing through the abdomen as a greenish tinge, this one is probably living on algae.
Further back from the glacier given the extra time, mosses have taken hold, small scrubby plants scrape a living and bright orange lichens spread over every rock.
In this more established environment, invertebrates are also more diverse.
This collembolan is the most common species, under every dripping, cold rock.
It's worth pointing out the plant fragments, grass and detritus on this rock as opposed to the one that the Tullbergia species of Collembola is standing on.
Franz Josef Glacier is a beautiful looking example of primary and secondary succession, all blues, greys and oranges, slowly drifting into rich greens in one direction, and the electric blues and whites of the glacier in the other. It's a place that is ephemeral and transient. After millions of years, this is possibly the swan song for this remarkable place.
It will continue, of course, the rainforest eventually taking over like it has done repeatedly over millions of years and the grey gash will slowly disappear into a mass of Pungas and scrub. It's an amazing place.