Alpine and cliff ecosystems in the North-Central Rocky Mountains
Data collection and analysis for managed wild lands is vital to their effective stewardship. To address this I gathered and analyzed data for largely undocumented alpine and cliff ecosystems located in the North-Central Rocky Mountains. This information should aid in decision-making processes for regional land managers and increase the overall ecological understanding of these systems. This manuscript includes detailed community analyses of alpine vegetation and its environment on andesitic-volcanic substrates in the Washburn Range and the Northern Absarokas. It also places the Washburn Range and Northern Absarokas into a regional non-volcanic context by comparing them to alpine areas in the Beartooth Mountains. Cliff communities were studied to record common species and to describe variation with respect to water and substrate gradients. An understanding of both alpine and cliff systems is important given the growing presence of exotic mountain goats (Oreomnos americanus) in the region, and concerns over the impact of global climate change to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, particularly in alpine areas. I also present here a number of original methods which should be of interest to ecologists. These include (1) methods for identifying objectively appropriate vegetation classification methods, and finding the correct number of data clusters in datasets, (2) methods for studying important environmental parameters on rock surfaces, and (3) a new protocol for efficiently determining soil water potentials.