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Vegetation as a tool in the characterisation of geomorphological forms and processes: an example from the Abisko Mountains

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This study addresses the relationships between landforms and vegetation in the sub–Arctic zone around Abisko, and the possibilities for using vegetation in the characterisation of geomorphological forms and processes. It examines the extent to which repeatable linkages can be identified between landforms and diagnostic features of the vegetation as a preliminary step in the development of phytoindicators of geomorphological forms and processes. Sixty sites representative of different landforms were studied in three mountain areas in the alpine belt on both calcareous and crystalline substrates. A series of features characterising the abiotic environment and vegetation was defined. Plant communities were distinguished in line with the ‘Scandinavian–school’ typology. Links were investigated between vegetation and geomorphological processes (deflation, frost sorting, solifluction and nivation) and landforms (thufurs, solifluction lobes, sorted stripes and nival niches). A clear association between vegetation and landforms was noted, though a precise description of the links encountered a number of difficulties, mainly reflecting the indirect nature of the interrelationships between landforms and vegetation (i.e. the fact that they are intermediated by other abiotic factors). A combination of indicative vegetational features capable of characterising the geomorphological processes was established, although those require futher, more detailed analysis. Schematic representations of the links between the different types of landforms and the vegetation growing on them were also developed. There are limits to the applicability of phytoindication in the high–alpine belt and extending into the nival belt, reflecting the unfavourable conditions there for plant growth.

Keywords: forms; geomorphological processes; sub–Arctic; vegetation

Document Type: Original Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-0459.00178

Affiliations: 1: Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland 2: Polish Academy of Sciences, Cracow, Poland

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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