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Comparison of Southern Appalachian high-elevation outcrop plant communities with their Northern Appalachian counterparts

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Southern Appalachian high-elevation outcrops harbour six regionally rare Northern Appalachian taxa usually considered relicts of a Pleistocene alpine flora. For five of the six taxa, minimum elevation in the south was 367–1113 m higher than in the north. While habitats compared between the two regions share only 9% of their total flora, individual plots had up to 70% of their species occurring in the opposite region. The northern affinity of southern outcrops increased with elevation, slope steepness, soil Cu, B and SO4 and decreased with potential solar radiation and soil Na. As a result, communities above 1600 m on felsic bedrock, and above 1350 m on mafic bedrock, were most northern in composition. Northern affinity of southern outcrops also increased with latitude, which may partly result from closer geographic proximity to past communities that provided progenitors for the current northern flora. Northern treeless habitats increased in southern affinity with increased slope steepness, perennial seepage, vegetation height, shade, soil pH, Al, Mn, Na and decreased elevation and organic matter. As a result, northern outcrop communities below treeline were most similar to those on southern outcrops. This suggests that southern outcrop vegetation may be more similar to Pleistocene outcrop vegetation than to Pleistocene alpine vegetation. Partial constrained ordination showed that while compositional differences between the Northern and Southern Appalachian habitats were largely explained by environmental differences, there was a significant component of residual variation explained by north or south position that was unrelated to environment. These residual compositional differences may result from historical influences on community structure involving stochastic extinction and colonization processes.

Keywords: Alpine vegetation; Pleistocene relict species; disjunct; latitudinal variation; partial gradient analysis; rock outcrop vegetation

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 1998

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