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Yellowstone's Destabilized EcosystemElk Effects, Science, and Policy Conflict$
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Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195148213

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195148213.001.0001

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Influences on Upland System Structure I: Aspen Woodland

Influences on Upland System Structure I: Aspen Woodland

(p.59) 6 Influences on Upland System Structure I: Aspen Woodland
Yellowstone's Destabilized Ecosystem

Frederic H. Wagner

Oxford University Press

Aspen in western North America grows in clones, and reproduces from root shoots (ramets) that replace short-lived (100-130 year) trees. Elk browse leaves and low branches producing browse lines, peel the bark of medium-age and young trees, browse off young ramets preventing reestablishment, and convert understories to low-diversity stands of grasses and annuals. Clones outside the park in the absence of ungulates, inside park exclosures, and in early park photographs, have mixed-age ramets, no highlines, and diverse understories of shrubs and perennial forbs. Contrary to natural-regulation advocates, photographic and dencrochronological evidence shows that aspens were a significant component of the vegetation before 1872 and in early park years. There has been no tree recruitment in the northern range since the 1920s, one-third of clones in early photographs have disappeared, the area of surviving clones has declined 80%, and associated biota of browsed clones has declined, all attributed primarily to elk browsing rather than other factors proposed by natural-regulation advocates.

Keywords:   clones, ramets, highlines, understory, elk

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