UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Classification of high-elevation, non-forested plant communities in coastal British Columbia Klinka, Karel; Chourmouzis, Christine; Brett, Bob; Qian, H. 2001-04-16

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Classification of High-elevation, Non-forestedPlant Communities in Coastal British ColumbiaSummaryNon-forested ecosystems dominate high elevation sitesin coastal British Columbia, yet there has never been acomprehensive classification or mapping of all high-elevation community types.  The objective of this studyis to collate and expand upon previous classifications,and thereby to increase our understanding of the habitatsand composition of these plant communities.Non-forested plant communities occur where trees arepermanently absent, or where they can survive only asprostrate or stunted  shrubs.    Within our region,  non-forested communities generally dominate sites that aresnow-free  for  <4 months.   We aimed  to  develop aclassification that organizes communities into groups in away which shows the greatest number of relationships, iseasily retained in memory, and is easily conveyed throughinstructions.Combining previous studies and new sampling allowedus to prepare the most comprehensive classification ofhigh-elevation, non-forested plant communities in coastalBC to  date. We present the  classification  of plantcommunities into  vegetation units that  include  (inincreasing rank):  subassociations, associations, alliances,and orders.   Diagnostic tables  show floristic affinitiesamong the vegetation units and interpret their relationshipsto environmental gradients.  We describe the environmentassociated with the vegetation units, then discuss theirrelationships.    Relating predictable patterns of plantcommunities to environmental gradients also allowed usto suggest eight habitat types that may aid in the futuremapping of high-elevation ecosystems (Figure 1).Study Sites and MethodsThe study  is  concentrated in  southern  coastal BritishColumbia (including  Vancouver Island,  the coastallowlands, Coast Mountains, and windward slopes of theScientia Silvica Extension Series, Number 29, 2001Cascade Mountains), but it  also extends northwardtowards Prince Rupert.  Its main elevational range is fromthe upper subalpine (parkland MH subzones) to the alpine(AT zone).   Our combined dataset of published andunpublished studies included 282 plots (relev?s).  All weresampled in areas that had no history of human influence.  Vegetation data for  all datasets were collected usingstandard methods.  Each plot was placed in a portion of acommunity that  was relatively  uniform in  floristiccomposition, structure, and site attributes (slope position,aspect, gradient, and ground cover).  Plot size increasedwith increasing floristic diversity and structural complexityof vegetation, varying from  0.5 to  100 m?.   All  plantspecies present within the plot were identified and theircover was estimated.  Environmental data were collectedfor each data set, including slope position, aspect, andgradient.  A soil pit was dug at each plot to describe andidentify soils.  We estimated SMR and SNR for all plots. Results and DiscussionPredictable relationships  can be used to  infer  certainenvironmental conditions from the presence of a givenplant community or, conversely, to forecast the presenceor development of  plant communities given certainenvironmental conditions.  The relationship between thesefactors in non-forested high-elevation communities maybe stronger  than  in  forested  communities, since  thegradients tend  to  be steeper.    The steepest  gradientsdevelop in relation to time of snowmelt, distance fromstanding  or flowing  water,  and time  elapsed sincedeglaciation or disturbance.  Other environmental factorsthat affect plant communities (and can be used to predicttheir  presence) include:  aspect, slope  gradient, slopeposition, parent material, soil  texture,  and drainagepatterns.Scientia Silvica  is published by the Forest Sciences Department,The University of British Columbia, ISSN 1209-952XEditor: Karel Klinka (klinka@interchange.ubc.ca)Production and design: Christine Chourmouzis (chourmou@interchange.ubc.ca)Financial support: Research Branch and the Vancouver Forest Region (BC Ministryof Forests)For more information contact: Karel KlinkaCopies available from: www.forestry.ubc.ca/klinka, or K.Klinka,Forest Sciences Department, UBC,3036-2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4Ordering InformationThis report is available in full colour or black-and-whiteprinted versions or  in  electronic format  on the  ScientiaSilvica  CD-ROM.  Ordering   information  is  available onwww.forestry.ubc.ca/klinka  or from  Karel Klinka(klinka@interchange.ubc.ca)ReferencesBrett, R.B., K. Klinka, and H. Qian.  1998.  Classificationof high-elevation, non-forested plant communities in CoastalBritish Columbia.  Forest Sciences Department, Universityof British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.;;;;; ;; ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;G2: shrub-dominatedG1: herb-dominatedFigure 1.  Generalized vegetation-environment relationships.  AKrummholzHabitat codeCharacteristicCommunityBSheet-washCHeathDSnow basinEWetlandFFragmented rockGLush herbaceousHLithicHabitat descriptionDistributionDominant life-formsPlant ordersrepresentedexposed cliffs andridges with earlysnowmeltunstable soils (sheet-wash and solifluction) with late mesic, well-drained sites on all aspectslate-snowmelt (chionophilous) patches and basinsnear moving water (fens) or stagnant water (bogs)chomophytic sites: talus slopes, rubble fields, and morainesmoist to wet slopes, stream edges, seeps, and avalanche tracksexposed rock (rupicolous) sites with early snowmelt(1) Rhizocarpon       geographicum;(2) Phlox diffusa(3) Marsupella      brevissima;(5) Cassiope-      Phyllodoce(5) Cassiope-      Phyllodoce;(10) Eriophorum        angustifolilum(3) Marsupella      brevissima;(4) Carex nigricans(4) Carex nigricans;(10) Eriophorum                                          angustifolium;(11) Carex pluriflora(5) Cassiope-      Phyllodoce;(6) Carex spectabilis;(9) Alnus viridis(1) Rhizocarpon      geographicum;(2) Phlox diffusa(7) Philonotis fontana;(8) Valeriana                                      sitchensis;(9) Alnus viridisdwarf trees and evergreen shrubsherbs, graminoids,and liverwortsevergreen shrubs liverworts and shrubsmosses and graminoidsherbs and graminoidsherbs, mosses, and deciduous shrubsmosses, evergreen shrubs, and herbsalpine alpine upper upper subalpine/alpine upper upper upper ;;;;;; soilrubblesoil and rubblerockSchematic slope profile for typical habitat typesLegend


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