The Changing Alpine Treeline

The Changing Alpine Treeline

The Example of Glacier National Park, MT, USA

1st Edition - March 13, 2009

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  • Editors: David Butler, George Malanson, Stephen Walsh, Daniel Fagre
  • Hardcover ISBN: 9780444533647
  • eBook ISBN: 9780080957098

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The alpine treeline ecotone (ATE) is an area of transition high on mountains where closed canopy forests from lower elevations give way to the open alpine tundra and rocky expanses above. Alpine tundra is an island biome and its ecotone with forest is subject to change, and like oceanic islands, alpine tundra is subject to invasion – or the upward advance of treeline. The invasion of tundra by trees will have consequences for the tundra biome as invasion does for other island flora and fauna. To examine the invasibility of tundra we take a plant’s-eye-view, wherein the local conditions become extremely important. Among these local conditions, we find geomorphology to be exceptionally important. We concentrate on aspects of microtopography (and microgeomorphology) and microclimate because these are the factors that matter: from the plant’s-eye-view, but we pay attention to multiple scales. At coarse scales, snow avalanches and debris flows are widespread and create “disturbance treelines” whose elevation is well below those controlled by climate. At medium scales, turf-banked terraces create tread-and-riser topography that is a difficult landscape for a tree seedling to survive upon because of exposure to wind, dryness, and impenetrable surfaces. At fine scales, turf exfoliation of the fronts of turf-banked risers, and boulders, offer microsites where tree seedlings may find shelter and are able to gain a foothold in the alpine tundra; conversely, however, surfaces of needle-ice pans and frost heaving associated with miniature patterned ground production are associated with sites inimical to seedling establishment or survival. We explicitly consider how local scale processes propagate across scales into landscape patterns. The objective of this book is to examine the controls on change at alpine treeline. All the papers are focused on work done in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. Although any one place is limiting, we are able to examine the alpine treeline here in some detail – and an advantage is that the treeline ecotone in Glacier National Park is quite variable in itself due to the underlying variability in geomorphology at multiple scales. This book will provide insights into an important ecological phenomenon with a distinctly geomorphic perspective. The editors collectively have over 100 years of experience in working in geomorphology, biogeography, and ecology. They also have each worked on research in Glacier National Park for several decades. The book will be a reference for a variety of professionals and students, both graduate and undergraduate, with interests in Physical Geography, Geomorphology, Ecology, and Environmental Science. Because of the importance of the alpine treeline ecotone for recreation and aesthetic interests in mountain environments, wildland and park managers will also use this book.

Key Features

* Subject matter: geomorphology at alpine treeline
* Expertise of contributors: each editor brings over 25 years of experience in studies of ecotones and geomorphology, and collectively over 100 years of experience in Glacier National Park
* Changing alpine treeline examines climate change


Professionals and students, both graduate and undergraduate, with interests in Physical Geography, Geomorphology, Ecology, and Environmental Science; wildland and park managers

Table of Contents

  • 1. Introduction: Understanding the Importance of Alpine Treeline Ecotones in Mountain Ecosystems, D.B. Fagre
    2. Pattern-Process Relations in the Alpine and Subalpine Environments: A Remote Sensing and GIScience Perspective, S.J. Walsh, D.G. Brown, Ch.A. Geddes, D.J. Weiss, S. McKnight, E.S. Hammer, and J.P. Tuttlea
    3. Ecotone Dynamics: Invasibility of Alpine Tundra by Tree Species from the Subalpine Forest, G.P. Malanson, D.G. Brown, D.R. Butler, D.M. Cairns, D.B. Fagre, and S.J. Walsh
    4. Geomorphic Patterns and Processes at Alpine Treeline, D.R. Butler, G.P. Malanson, L.M. Resler, S.J. Walsh, F.D. Wilkerson, G.L. Schmid, and C.F. Sawyer
    5. Environmental Controls on Turf-Banked Terraces, D.J. Weiss, S.J. Walsh, S.A. McKnight, and E.S. Hammer
    6. Soils and Pedogenesis at Alpine Treeline, G.L. Schmid, D.R. Butler, G.P. Malanson, and
    L.M. Resler
    7. Canopy Structure in the Krummholz and Patch Forest Zones, E.S. Hammer, and S.J. Walsh
    8. A Markov Analysis of Tree Islands at Alpine Treeline, L.M. Resler, and M.A. Fonstad
    9. Modeling Feedback Effects on Linear Patterns of Subalpine Forest Advancement, M.F. Bekker, and G.P. Malansonb
    10. The Future of Treeline, D.R. Butler, G.P. Malanson, and S.J. Walsh

Product details

  • No. of pages: 224
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Elsevier Science 2009
  • Published: March 13, 2009
  • Imprint: Elsevier Science
  • Hardcover ISBN: 9780444533647
  • eBook ISBN: 9780080957098

About the Editors

David Butler

Affiliations and Expertise

Department of Geography, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, USA

George Malanson

Affiliations and Expertise

Department of Geography, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA

Stephen Walsh

Affiliations and Expertise

Department of Geography, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

Daniel Fagre

Affiliations and Expertise

US Geological Survey Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Glacier National Park, MT, USA

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