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Vegetation geo-climatic zonation in the rocky mountains, Northern Utah, USA

Kusbach, Antonin; Miegroet, Helga; Boettinger, Janis L; Long, James N. 2014. Journal of Mountain Science


We developed a vegetation geo-climatic zonation incorporating the zonal concept, gradient and discriminant analysis in Wasatch Range, northern Utah, USA. Mountainous forest ecosystems were sampled and described by vegetation, physiographic features and soil properties. The Snowpack Telemetry and National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Program weather station networks were used to approximate the climate of sample plots. We analysed vegetation and environmental data using clustering, ordination, classification, and ANOVA techniques to reveal environmental gradients affecting a broad vegetation pattern and discriminate these gradients. The specific objective was to assess and classify the response of the complex vegetation to those environmental factors operating at a coarse-scale climatic level. Ordination revealed the dominant role of regional, altitude-based climate in the area. Based on vegetation physiognomy, represented by five tree species, climatic data and taxonomic classification of zonal soils, we identified two vegetation geo-climatic zones: (1) a montane zone, with Rocky Mountain juniper and Douglas-fir; and (2) a subalpine zone, with Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir as climatic climax species. Aspen was excluded from the zonation due to its great ecological amplitude. We found significant differences between the zones in regional climate and landform geomorphology/soils. Regional climate was represented by elevation, precipitation, and air and soil temperatures; and geomorphology by soil types. This coarse-scale vegetation geo-climatic zonation provides a framework for a comprehensive ecosystem survey, which is missing in the central Rocky Mountains of the United States. The vegetation-geoclimatic zonation represents a conceptual improvement on earlier classifications. This framework explicitly accounts for the influence of the physical environment on the distribution of vegetation within a complex landscape typical of the central Rocky Mountains and in mountain ranges elsewhere.

Key Words

Ecological classification Ecosystem survey Land classification Zonal concept Vegetation zone Vegetation geo-climatic zone Climate change