• Plant succession in the Arctic Brooks Range: floristic patterns from alpine to foothills, along a glacial chronosequence and elevation gradient

      Kasanke, Shawnee A.; Walker, Donald A.; Chapin, F. Stuart III; Mann, Daniel H. (2019-08)
      In the wake of rapid glacial retreat, alpine habitats in the Arctic are expanding as freshly exposed surfaces become vegetated. Many glaciers in alpine cirques have nearly disappeared, and little is known about the rate of colonization or pioneer communities that develop following deglaciation. Newly developed habitats may provide refugia for sensitive Arctic flora and fauna, especially in light of polar warming. To assess this process, vegetation communities developing on two recently deglaciated moraines in the Central Brooks Range were surveyed and compared with communities along a transect spanning both a glacial chronosequence (40-125,000 years since deglaciation) and an elevation gradient (1700-500 m) into the Arctic foothills. Results show that primary succession begins almost immediately following deglaciation. Within forty years fine-grained and rock substrates hosted small communities of 8-13 vascular and nonvascular plant species. Many pioneer taxa, especially lichens, persist into later stages of succession. Overall succession is directional and slow, increasing in species richness for about 10,000 years, after which richness decreases and communities stabilize. This is the first vegetation study on primary succession in the high Central Brooks Range, providing a missing link to a vegetation transect along the Arctic Bioclimatic gradient.