Vegetation Distribution and Production in Rocky Mountain Climates—with Emphasis on Whitebark Pine
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The distribution and production of vegetation on the altitudinal J gradient (grassland-forest-alpine) was plotted against climatic parameters to evaluate hypothetical controlling factors. (1) Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is likely excluded from higher zones by a cool growing season or wind-induced drought. It is probably not excluded by low temperatures occurring during its hardening, hard, or dehardening seasons. (2) While the lower physiological limit of whitebark pine is probably set by drought its lower realized limit is directly set by subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) competitors and indirectly set by factors that control their distribution. (3) The upper limits for most other dominant species are probably set by growing season temperature. The lower limits are likely set by competition down to the cedar-hemlock (Thuja plicata/Tsuga heterophylla) zone and by drought in drier areas. (4) Production is strongly correlated (r 2 = 0.86) with growing season length (soil thawed season minus dry soil days). Multiplying season length by average temperature did not improve the growing season predictor, perhaps because vegetation at each altitude is especially adapted to temperatures in its zone.
Weaver, T. "Vegetation Distribution and Production in Rocky Mountain Climates—with Emphasis on Whitebark Pine” in Proceedings—International Workshop on Subalpine Stone Pines and Their Environment: the Status of Our Knowledge. St Moritz, Switzerland, September 5-11, 1992.