Vegetation Succession and Biogeomorphic Interactions in Glacier Forelands

  • Jana EichelEmail author
Part of the Geography of the Physical Environment book series (GEOPHY)


Proglacial areas are not only the stage for glacial processes and paraglacial dynamics, which shape the landscape following glacier retreat. At the same time, the new terrain is colonized quickly by plants and animals. Different plant species follow each other in a sequence of successional stages. This sequence is controlled by both abiotic and biotic processes and depends on local-, landscape- and regional-scale environmental factors, such as soil properties, topography and elevation. Yet, successional sequences are often disrupted or changed by disturbances. For example, geomorphic processes delay vegetation succession, limit its development to pioneer stages or change its pathways. However, vegetation succession is not only changed by disturbances, plants can also actively influence geomorphic processes. These biogeomorphic interactions control patterned ground, glaciofluvial floodplain and moraine slope development. Once geomorphic activity decreases to a certain degree, ecosystem engineer species can establish, e.g. the dwarf shrub Dryas octopetala on lateral moraine slopes. When plant biomass reaches a certain volume, it starts to affect geomorphic processes; e.g., interactions change the dominant process on moraine slopes from slope wash and slide to bound solifluction. These biogeomorphic feedbacks stabilize the glacial sediments and facilitate establishment for later successional species, such as trees.


Vegetation colonisation Succession Chronosequence Disturbance Biogeomorphic interactions Ecosystem engineers 



The research presented in some sections of this chapter is part of the BIMODAL (Biogeomorphic dynamics on lateral moraines in the Turtmann glacier forefield, Switzerland) project, funded by the German Research Foundation DFG (DI 414/22-1). Thanks go to two anonymous reviewers, the editor Tobias Heckmann and Daniel Draebing for helpful and constructive comments on the manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Geography and Geoecology, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)KarlsruheGermany

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