Conservation and ecological restoration of Rocky Mountain subalpine meadows: vegetation responses to tree encroachment




Shaw, Adrienne Kara

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University of Victoria


Over the past century tree encroachment has occurred in North American subalpine meadows. Causes of tree establishment have been related to climate influences and exclusion of fire, but very few studies have looked at the consequence of tree encroachment on meadow vegetation. Within the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains, Waterton Lakes National Park and Castle Special Management Area, 14 meadows were randomly selected at wet and dry sites. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling showed that species composition changed during the transition of open meadow to forest for both wet and dry habitats. There were no significant differences in these two management areas in terms of conifer encroachment and the effects on meadow species. Results of this study show that conifer encroachment has increased over the last century with the consequences of loss in meadow species through a decrease in abundance, richness and diversity. Wet sites were significantly more sensitive to conifer encroachment than dry sites. The greatest inhibitory effects of trees on meadow vegetation within the ecotone occurred when trees were 54-72 years old for wet sites and 77-112 years old for dry sites. Ecological restoration of these meadows is important for ongoing habitat conservation, maintaining species and landscape diversity and ecosystem resilience.



Tree encroachment, Meadow, Ecological restoration