Impacts of Camping on Vegetation: Response and Recovery Following Acute and Chronic Disturbance
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Experiments with controlled levels of recreational camping were conducted on previously undisturbed sites in two different plant communities in the subalpine zone of the Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, USA. The plant communities were coniferous forest with understory dominated by the low shrub Vaccinium scoparium and a riparian meadow of intermixed grasses and forbs, of which Deschampsia cespitosa was most abundant. Sites were camped on at intensities of either one or four nights per year, for either one (acute disturbance) or three consecutive years (chronic disturbance). Recovery was followed for three years on sites camped on for one year and for one year on sites camped on for three years. Reductions in vegetation cover and vegetation height were much more pronounced on sites in the forest than on sites in the meadow. In both plant communities, increases in vegetation impact were not proportional to increases in either years of camping or nights per year of camping. Close to the center of campsites, near-maximum levels of impact occurred after the first year of camping on forested sites and after the second year on meadow sites. Meadow sites recovered completely within a year, at the camping intensities employed in the experiments. Forest sites, even those camped on for just one night, did not recover completely within three years. Differences between acute and chronic disturbance were not pronounced.