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Effects of altitude and topography on species richness of vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens in alpine communities

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Question: What is the relationship between species richness of vascular plants, bryophytes and macrolichens, and two important gradients in the alpine environment, altitude and local topography?

Location: Northernmost Fennoscandia, 250-1525 m a.s.l. corresponding to the range between timberline and mountain top.

Methods: The vegetation was sampled in six mountain areas. For each 25 vertical metres, the local topographic gradient from wind-blown ridge to snowbed was sampled in quadrats of 0.8 m × 0.8 m. Patterns in species richness were explored using Poisson regression (Generalized Linear Models). Functional groups of species, i.e. evergreen and deciduous dwarfshrubs, forbs, graminoids, mosses, hepatics and lichens were investigated separately.

Results: Functional groups showed markedly different patterns with respect to both altitude and topography. Species richness of all vascular plants showed a unimodal relationship with altitude. The same was true for graminoids, forbs and lichens analysed separately, but forb richness peaked at much higher altitudes than total richness. The richness of dwarfshrubs decreased monotonically with altitude, whereas richness of mosses and liverworts showed an increasing trend. Significant interactions between altitude and local topography were present for several groups. The unimodal pattern for total plant species richness was interpreted in terms of local productivity, physical disturbance, trophic interactions, and in terms of species pool effects.

Conclusions: Patterns in local species richness result from the action of two opposing forces: declining species pool and decreasing intensity of competition with altitude.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2006

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