Alpine Plant Community Composition, Phenology, and Physiology in Relation to Snow Melt Timing

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Earlier snowmelt affects many ecosystems worldwide, especially in montane settings. USGS and other federal and university scientists determined how alpine plant species respond to snow melt gradients in a high-alpine area of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Additionally, they studied phenology of 19 plant species and physiology of six species, including three wide-ranging and three alpine-restricted species. Wide-ranging species became more abundant and increased community richness with earlier snowmelt. In all plant types, earlier snowmelt also caused earlier flowering and later snowmelt reduced the duration of flowering for a portion of species. For all plant types, there were no differences in photosynthesis, transpiration, or water use in early compared to late melting sites. Alpine-restricted species may be more sensitive to shifts in snowmelt timing and thus better indicators of plant community change than wide-ranging species.

Winkler, D.E., Butz, R.J., Germino, M.J., Reinhardt, K., Kueppers, L.M., 2018, Snowmelt timing regulates community composition, phenology, and physiological performance of alpine plants: Frontiers in Plant Science, v. 9, p. 1140, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2018.01140

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