Volcano Ecology: State of the Field and Contributions of Mount St. Helens Research

Chapter

Abstract

A review of published studies of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystem responses to disturbance by volcanic processes reveals some unifying themes: most eruption events leave biological legacies of the pre-disturbance ecosystems, and the course of post-disturbance succession involves the protracted interplay of these legacies with immigrating species, biotic interactions, site amelioration, and secondary biological and geophysical disturbance processes. Research at Mount St. Helens has been a major contributor to this body of work dating from 1883 when the eruption of Krakatau marked the beginning of ecological studies of recent eruptions.

Keywords

Biogeography Disturbance ecology Ecological succession Ecosystems Global volcanism Land management Mount St. Helens Science outreach Volcanic hazards Volcano ecology 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We greatly appreciate the assistance of E. Schyling in assembly of the bibliographic database, K. Christiansen in creation of the Fig. 16.1, and K. Ronnenberg for creation of timeline, photo plate, and additional editorial assistance. Reviews of the manuscript by V. Dale, J. Franklin, C. Millar, and R. Parmenter were especially helpful. Funding for our research activities at Mount St. Helens and abroad has been provided by the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station and the National Science Foundation (LTREB Program DEB-0614538). Collaborations with colleagues at Mount St. Helens and in Alaska, Chile, Argentina, China, and Iceland have strengthened our volcano ecology perspectives. We acknowledge and thank the ecologists who since the 1883 eruption of Krakatau have provided important foundational work in the field of volcano ecology.

Glossary

Biological legacy

Live and dead organisms and organic matter that survive an ecological disturbance and may affect the pace and pattern of post-disturbance ecosystem development.

Blast PDC (blast pyroclastic density current)

A form of pyroclastic density current initiated by rapid decompression of lava domes or cryptodomes (magma bodies cooled high within a volcanic edifice) owing to sudden collapse. Rapid decompression results in a directed explosion that initially impels the current laterally before it becomes a gravity-driven flow. [Sources: a generalized definition based on definitions of PDCs provided in Pierson and Major (2014) and Sigurdsson et al. (2015)]. In the case of the Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption, failure of the volcano’s north flank unroofed pressurized magma and superheated groundwater. Rapid exsolution of magmatic gases and conversion of superheated groundwater to steam produced a laterally directed blast, which formed a density current that flowed across rugged topography. The current contained fragmented rock debris as well as shattered forest material (Lipman and Mullineaux 1981).

Debris avalanche

A rapid granular flow of an unsaturated or partly saturated mixture of volcanic rock particles (± ice) and water, initiated by the gravitational collapse and disintegration of part of a volcanic edifice. Debris avalanches differ from debris flows in that they are not water-saturated. Although debris avalanches commonly occur in association with eruptions, they can also occur during periods when a volcano is dormant. (Sources: Pierson and Major 2014; Sigurdsson et al. 2015).

Lahar

An Indonesian term for a rapid granular flow of a fully saturated mixture of volcanic rock particles (± ice), water, and commonly woody debris. A lahar that has ≥50% solids by volume is termed a debris flow; one that has roughly 10–50% solids by volume is termed a hyperconcentrated flow. Flow type can evolve with time and distance along a flow path as sediment is entrained or deposited. (Sources: Pierson and Major 2014; Sigurdsson et al. 2015).

Pyroclastic flow

Rapid flow of a dry mixture of hot (commonly >700 °C) solid particles, gases, and air, with a ground-hugging flow that is often directed by topography. Flows are generally gravity driven but may be accelerated initially by impulsive lateral forces of directed volcanic explosions. Flows typically move at high velocity (up to several hundred km h−1).

Refuge (refugia)

Localized sites where organisms survive a disturbance event at a level greater than the surrounding, disturbance-affected area.

Succession

Development of an ecosystem following disturbance, including processes such as species assembly by immigration and establishment, species interactions (e.g., herbivory), and site amelioration (e.g., weathering of inorganic substrates). Primary succession refers to cases with no legacies of the pre-disturbance ecosystem; secondary succession refers to cases where some biota from the pre-disturbance ecosystem persists.

Tephrafall

A rain of volcanic particles to the ground following ejection into the atmosphere by an explosive eruption. Tephra is a collective term for particles of any size, shape, or composition ejected in an explosive eruption. (Sources: Pierson and Major 2014; Sigurdsson et al. 2015).

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research StationCorvallis Forestry Sciences LaboratoryCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research StationMount St. Helens National Volcanic MonumentAmboyUSA

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