Microtopographic heterogeneity constrains alpine plant diversity, Glacier National Park, MT
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- Rose, J.P. & Malanson, G.P. Plant Ecol (2012) 213: 955. doi:10.1007/s11258-012-0056-y
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Theoretical and empirical evidence exists for a positive relationship between environmental heterogeneity and species diversity. Alpine plant communities can exhibit exceptional diversity at a fine scale, which niche theory would suggest is the result of fine scale spatial heterogeneity of the environment. To test if species diversity of alpine plants is driven by environmental heterogeneity, we sampled vascular plant species composition, microtopography, and ground cover within 1 m2 plots with and without solifluction forms in Glacier National Park, MT. We analyzed the relationship between microtopographic heterogeneity and species richness at the plot and sub-plot scale with linear and quantile regression, respectively. Species richness does not differ between the plots varying in cover type. Species richness is negatively related to the fractal dimension (D) of the ground surface and non-vegetated ground cover within 1 m2 plots. At a finer scale, the standard deviation of elevation and slope appear to impose a limit on species richness such that more variable sub-plots have lower species richness. Contrary to our expectations, microtopographic heterogeneity does not promote the diversity of alpine plants. The negative relationship between topographic heterogeneity and species richness is contrary to the theoretical prediction that environmental heterogeneity generally results in greater species diversity. It is possible that microtopographic variability represents a measure of soil disturbance, which would be expected to have a negative effect on species diversity in alpine tundra due to its low productivity.