, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 65-78

Forest vegetation of the Colorado Front Range: Patterns of species diversity

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Summary

Plant species diversity patterns of the Rocky Mountain forests were found to be at variance with patterns reported from other regions. The most centrally located forests in terms of elevation, site moisture and successional status were found to have the lowest diversity. In contrast, the peripheral and environmentally more severe sites were found to have relatively high diversity. In particular, the forest-grassland transition and the low elevation riparian forests have species diversity values as high as any yet reported from western North America.

When diversity was examined in terms of variation across elevation or moisture gradients, varying results were obtained due to the interaction of these factors. The failure of previous studies to converge on generalizations about plant diversity reflects, in part, the failure of most investigators to view diversity in a regional context of variation across several interacting gradients.

Diversity was seen to vary inversely with the degree of development of the forest canopy. The interaction of different components of the forest community is one reason for the failure of general patterns of plant species diversity to emerge from previous studies. A potentially rich herb community can be greatly suppressed by a single species tree stratum.

Among the most successful work to date on species diversity is that on birds, a distinct albeit large and functional group. It is unlikely that similar success could have been achieved through work on all animal species simultaneously. This suggests the need to examine plant species diversity, not in terms of total diversity, but in terms of component functional groups, perhaps guilds, growing under similar microclimatic conditions and subject to similar competitive pressures.

Nomenclature follows Weber (1976).