Effects of disturbance on plant regrowth along snow pack gradients in alpine habitats
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- Evju, M., Hagen, D. & Hofgaard, A. Plant Ecol (2012) 213: 1345. doi:10.1007/s11258-012-0094-5
Human disturbance in alpine habitats is expected to increase, and improved knowledge of short-term recovery after disturbance events is necessary to interpret vegetation responses and formulate planning and mitigation efforts. The ability of a plant community to return to its original state after a disturbance (community resilience) depends on species composition and environmental conditions. The aim of this study is to analyze initial short-term effects of disturbance in alpine plant communities in contrasting climates (oceanic vs. continental; central Norway). We used a nested block-design to examine vegetative regrowth and seedling recruitment after experimental perturbation. Three plant community types along the snow pack gradient were exposed to (1) no disturbance, (2) clipping, and (3) clipping and uprooting. Slow vegetative regrowth and low seedling establishment rates were found in dry alpine ridges and late-melting oceanic snowbed communities. Leeside habitats with intermediate snow conditions were found more resilient. The difference was related to growth form and species diversity. Woody species, which dominated in ridges and oceanic snowbeds, showed the most negative response to disturbance. Species-rich plant communities dominated by graminoids and herbs showed higher rates of regrowth. Species richness seems to cause resilience to the plant communities through higher response diversity. Plant communities at the extreme ends of abiotic gradients, ridges and late-melting snowbeds, will be most sensitive to both disturbance and environmental change. In an up-scaled human-used landscape disturbance effects will be amplified and further limit recovery to a pre-disturbance state.