Plant Ecology

, Volume 158, Issue 2, pp 201-221

First online:

Altitudinal changes in composition and structure of mountain-temperate vegetation: a case study from the Western Carpathians

  • Jiří DoležalAffiliated withUniversity of South Bohemia, Faculty of Biological Sciences
  • , Miroslav ŠrůtekAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Ecology, Institute of Botany

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Changes in composition and structure of plant communities in relation tothe soil and snow cover variation were analyzed along an altitudinal transect(1150–1750 m) from the mountain-temperate forests to a woodyshrub community and alpine meadows on Mt Velký Gápel', Slovakia.The soils below the treeline (∼1510 m) had a more developedorganic layer above the mineral substratum. Generally, soil depth decreased asthe altitude increased, although the maximum values were recognized at a middlealtitude in a beech stand. Snow was redistributed by westerly winds from theridgeline down to the upper forest margin. Mean snow depth decreased withaltitude up to almost snow-free sites around the summit. In the 48 plots at 16sites we recorded 118 taxa including 6 tree, 7 shrub, 18 grass, 42 herb, 5fern,25 moss and 15 lichen species. The species diversity showed no distinctrelationship to altitude but declined with canopy consolidation. The TWINSPANfloristic classification distinguished five groups of community typescharacterised by different dominants, and a further three clusters of samplesfrom transition zones. Horizontal compositional heterogeneity increased inareaswhere trees were aggregated and tree basal area was smaller. Vegetationcomposition became more patchy at open-canopy Acerpseudoplatanus–Abies alba mixed forest at 1150 m,in Picea abies forest limit ∼1470 m, andin Pinus mugo krummholz at 1590 m. Speciesturnover of the entire transect was 6.1 half-changes as estimated by DCA.Despite this heterogeneity, none of the 15 elevational bands had significantaggregation of species' limits. Vegetation varied continuously, with individualspecies overlapping in transition zones delimited by dominant taxa. Thecoincident aggregation of up-slope and down-slope boundaries was found at abelt1430–1510 m. This discrete ecotone corresponds to a shiftfrom the closed coniferous forest to P. mugo krummholz.Thesecond inherent up-slope boundary aggregation indicated the P.mugo krummholz – alpine meadow vegetation transition at∼1700 m. Spatial analysis (K-function) of eight forest plots(0.12 ha each) showed that at lower elevation, adult trees of thebroad-leaf forest were closer to a random arrangement while at higherelevation,trees of evergreen coniferous stands became aggregated toward the forest limitwith the highest intensity from 2 to 4 m. Altitudinal gradient andrelated factors explained 35% of the variance in vegetation data.Canonical correspondence analysis also showed that main vegetation changesabovethe treeline area were associated with the topographic pattern of pine shrubsand snow cover.

Floristic classification Gradient analysis Tree spatial pattern Vegetation continuum West Carpathians