Influence of a Warming Climate on Vegetation

Over time, continued change to physical conditions such as those predicted due to global climate warming, may cause the development of completely new vegetation communities that reflect new sets of physical conditions.

photo pair showing changing shrublines

Reordering and replacement of current vegetation communities across the park landscape may occur.  In fact, some of these changes are already visible in the repeat photo pairs, such as the photo displayed here, where a hillside that was previously covered by moist alpine tundra has converted to a shrubland over an interval of 80 years.

Does this mean that all of the changes visible in the photo pairs are due to a changing climate?  Not necessarily.  Remember that most ecological communities are constantly undergoing succession across different scales of time and space.

photo pair showing gravel bars

So some changes captured in the photo pairs may reflect different stages of a successional change, for example the photo displayed here, that shows different stages of the succession of vegetation communities on gravel bars.

Vegetation change park-wide, regardless of its cause, holds the potential to (1) modify the landscape distribution of woody plant materials which act as fuel for wildfires, thus affecting how often and how intense our wildfires will be, (2) alter local microclimates including wind, snow accumulation, and soil temperature, and (3) change the distribution, quantity, and quality of food for both predators and their prey.

As you examine some of the photo pairs, consider carefully how to assess the changing landscape, paying close attention to where vegetation communities are reordered or replaced.  What does this tell you about the physical conditions at that site?

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