Abstract Detail


Tirrell, Andrea [1], Cianchette, Michael [2], McDonough MacKenzie, Caitlin [3], Gill, Jacquelyn [4].

A sky island perspective: New England (USA) alpine plant community change across space and time.

Background: New England alpine plant communities exist as scattered mountaintop islands separated by a matrix of northern hardwood forest. After deglaciation, the region was initially dominated by tundra species found largely in the Arctic today. As climate changed, these species were limited to the highest elevation sites, where high winds and freezing temperatures limit tree growth. New England’s alpine ecosystems are thought to be climatic refugia for these tundra relic species. Understanding their history and present-day assembly could then provide insight into their vulnerability to modern climate change. Because these rare mountaintop communities are often managed by separate agencies, plant distribution surveys have taken place sporadically over the last century, and standardization is lacking. Therefore, it is not entirely clear how interconnected these communities are, or how they may have changed through time.  Results:  To address this, in summer 2021 we conducted vegetation transect surveys on 8 peaks to assess whether the size, isolation, and topographic complexity of each “sky island” affects species presence, richness, and diversity. Mountaintop locations were chosen to incorporate various sizes, levels of isolation from other peaks, and the presence of historic surveys. We found that isolation, island size, and topographic factors all influence species richness and diversity on New England alpine islands, which is consistent with island biogeography theory. Small, isolated “sky island” sites may be most vulnerable to changes in climate because they are home to fewer individuals, fewer species, and less species diversity. We also present a new technique for establishing virtual permanent plots using photogrammetry to standardize re-surveys in the future. As climate continues to change,  it becomes increasingly important to monitor these fragile communities with non-disruptive methods, in order to track community changes through time.

Related Links:
New England Sky Island website

1 - University of Maine, Ecology and Environmental Science, 326 Grove St, Bangor, ME, 04401, USA
2 - University of Maine, 127 Sawyer Environmental Research Labs, Orono, ME, 04469, USA
3 - 4 Centre St, Cambridge, MA, 02139, United States
4 - University of Maine, Climate Change Institute, 127 Environmental Research Labs, Orono, ME, 04469, USA

plant ecology
alpine ecology.

Presentation Type: Poster
Number: PBG001
Abstract ID:47
Candidate for Awards:None

Copyright © 2000-2022, Botanical Society of America. All rights reserved