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Niwot Ridge Flora

Niwot Ridge Flora

Niwot Ridge, photo credit: Bill Bowman

Niwot Ridge encompasses a wide variety of vegetation communities. Lodgepole pine and aspen stands are found on the lower east- and south-facing slopes of Niwot Ridge. Lodgpole pine is replaced by subalpine spruce-fir forests at higher elevations. Limber pine occurs in rocky terrain throughout forested areas. In the transition zone or ecotone between the closed subalpine forest and alpine tundra, meadows are interspersed with islands of stunted coniferous trees (krummholz) and taller patch forest. Above treeline the alpine tundra is made up primarily of herbaceous plant communities, with shrubs occurring in some areas. The highest most rugged western portions of the ridge are dominated by unvegetated scree and sparse vegetation (fellfield).

Krummhotlz

Krummhotlz

Due to an uneven distribution of moisture, herbaceous vegetation communities vary considerably throughout the alpine tundra. Moisture availability differences are caused by interactions among wind, snow, and high topographic relief, which create a mosaic of snow-free and snow accumulation areas where the amount and timing of meltwater release varies. Summer precipitation is also highly variable, both temporally and spatially, usually arriving in brief convective storms. During the early 1970s, Pat Webber and Diane May used ordination techniques to broadly define six vegetation communities, or noda, in the Niwot Ridge Saddle, a major research area: fellfield, dry meadow, moist meadow, wet meadow, shrub tundra, and snowbed. 

Moss campion (Silene acaulus), photo credit: JG Smith

Moss campion (Silene acaulus), photo credit: JG Smith

Fellfield vegetation communities include low-statured cushion plants, such as Silene acaulis, and mat-forming plants, like Trifolium dasyphyllum. Dry meadow tundra is characterized by high cover of the sedge Kobresia myosuroides. The moist meadow is dominated by the forb Geum rossii and the grass Deschampsia cespitosa. Wet meadow is characterized by the sedge Carex scopulorum and the forb Caltha leptosepala. Shrub tundra contains high willow (Salix glauca, S. planifolia) cover. Snowbed areas are dominated either by the forb Sibbaldia procumbens or the sedge Carex pyrenaica.

Alpine avens (Geum rossii), photo credit: Bill Bowman

Alpine avens (Geum rossii), photo credit: Bill Bowman

Belowground allocation and processes may be particularly important in alpine vegetation, as evidenced by high root-to-shoot ratios in alpine plant species.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) in the subalpine forest of Niwot Ridge, photo credit: JG Smith

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) in the subalpine forest of Niwot Ridge, photo credit: JG Smith


Related Displine Data:

Plant/vegetation ecology


Related Core Datasets :

Primary productivity


Related Transformative Research:


Associated Niwot Researchers:

Related Photo Galleries

Niwot Ridge Flora

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  • Alpine avens (Geum rossii)
    Alpine avens (Geum rossii)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)
    Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)
  • Shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum)
    Shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum)
  • Alpine forget-me-not (Eritrichium nanum)
    Alpine forget-me-not (Eritrichium nanum)
  • Old man of the mountain (Tetraneuris grandiflora)
    Old man of the mountain (Tetraneuris grandiflora)
  • Alpine clover (Trifolium dasyphyllum)
    Alpine clover (Trifolium dasyphyllum)
  • Saffron groundsel (Packera crocata)
    Saffron groundsel (Packera crocata)
  • Moss campion (Silene acaulis)
    Moss campion (Silene acaulis)
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement #DEB-1637686. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necesarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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