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Structure and Function of an Alpine EcosystemNiwot Ridge, Colorado$
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William D. Bowman and Timothy R. Seastedt

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195117288

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195117288.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 22 June 2021

The Vegetation: Hierarchical Species-Environment Relationships

The Vegetation: Hierarchical Species-Environment Relationships

(p.99) 6 The Vegetation: Hierarchical Species-Environment Relationships
Structure and Function of an Alpine Ecosystem

Marilyn D. Walker

Donald A. Walker

Theresa A. Theodose

Patrick J. Webber

Oxford University Press

The vegetation of Niwot Ridge has a rich history of study, beginning with phytosociological studies directly on the Ridge and in the surrounding mountains and incorporating more experimental and dynamic approaches in later years. This chapter provides an overview of the spatial patterns of Niwot Ridge plants and plant communities relative to the primary controlling environmental gradients at scales from the individual to the landscape. The spatial patterns of vegetation at all scales are dominated by physical forces, particularly the interaction of wind, snow, and topography. The controls of biotic factors on the distribution and abundance of plant species on Niwot Ridge have received considerably less attention than have physical factors, but recent studies have revealed the importance of competition and certain mutualisms in structuring community composition. Community research on Niwot Ridge has been organized around a hierarchy of spatial scales, from the plot to the region. Plot-based studies have focused on physiological and ecological dynamics of specific species and communities, and more spatially extensive studies have provided a hierarchical framework for the plot studies. In this chapter, we first present an overview of the broader patterns in the vegetation, followed by descriptions of the communities, and then the specifics of physical and biotic controls on species and plant growth that drive the community patterns. The landscape-scale patterns in the Niwot vegetation are driven by a complex elevation gradient, which is a combination of temperature and snow regime, with wind modifying and interacting with temperature and snow at all points along the gradient (chapter 2). Certainly the most critical boundary in the system is the upper tree limit, which defines the alpine system and which lies roughly between 3400 and 3600 m elevation on Niwot Ridge. Billings (1988) provided a climatic-floristic-physiographic review of major North American alpine systems that helps to place Niwot Ridge into a larger perspective. Climatically, Niwot is intermediate between the dry Sierras, which have greater precipitation but almost none of it falling during the summer, and the wetter northern Appalachians (Mt. Washington), which have fairly even annual precipitation and no drought.

Keywords:   Air temperature, Bryophytes, Cardamine cordifolia, Danthonia intermedia, Eritrichium aretioides, Fellfields, Graminoids, Herbivores, Koenigia islandica, Lichens

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