, Volume 175, Issue 2, pp 273-286

Gradients in compositional variation on lahars, Mount St. Helens, Washington, USA

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Abstract

How isolation affects primary succession remains unresolved. Our hypotheses are: 1) the rate of succession is slowed within 50 m from sources and 2) dominance increases more rapidly if the growing season is longer. We sampled lahar vegetation near conifer forests on Mount St. Helens 23 years after the eruption using transects (Muddy) and grids (Butte Camp, BC). Transects were compared to isolated plots of the same age, while grids were compared to vegetation that was 400 years older. Cover declined with distance and with elevation on the Muddy due to denser seed rain near forests and shorter growing seasons at higher elevation. On BC-1, next to a forest, richness measures increased with distance, while cover decreased with elevation. On BC-2, more exposed than BC-1, mean richness and cover declined with elevation, but increased towards seed sources. Equitability increased with distance and with elevation on more stressful transects and on BC-1. Percent similarity (PS), a measure of floristic heterogeneity, declined with elevation on Muddy-SW. BC-1 PS decreased with both distance and elevation. Data from grids collected since 1987 showed that both sites became more homogeneous through time. Directional changes on BC-1 were greater than on BC-2, while annual variation of DCA scores declined only on BC-2. These differences are related to conifer dominance patterns. Succession is influenced by isolation, which controls the seed rain, and by stress, which controls establishment, the rate of biomass accumulation, and the spread of immigrants. Although community development is governed by environmental factors, this study shows that the effects of dispersal that result from distance factors can persist and may be a source of unexplained variation in mature communities.