A vegetation community is the plants that grow in a certain area, which depends on the kind of soil, climate, and disturbance processes like fire and animal grazing. Vegetation is the basis for wildlife habitat, and the source of all ecosystem productivity, which provides food resources for people and animals in the ecosystem. In the Park there are two main types of vegetation communities: tundra and boreal forest. Within each of these communities, there are important vegetation types like shrub thickets and wetlands.
Tundra is the vegetation of places too cold for trees. It occures over most of the Park, with dry tundra on higher mountain slopes and boggy tundra in valley floors. Many tundra plants are small and slow-growing; they take a long time to recover if they are harmed. Boreal forest, also known as taiga, is made up of spruce, birch, aspen, and poplar trees with a variety of shrubs and low-growing lichens, mosses, and herbs.
Within both vegetation communities, shrub thickets and wetlands occur. Shrub thickets are common along rivers, creeks, and sometimes they can be found at tree-line. The birch, willow, and alder that crowd shrub thickets never grow to tree size. Wetlands typically occur around lakes and in other lowland areas. Wetlands are common in both the tundra and taiga, thanks to the presence of permafrost, which does not allow water to soak into the ground.
Arctic vegetation is very sensitive to climate change and disturbance such as fire, grazing, as well as human and animal traffic. Research has documented an increase in shrubs and, to a lesser extent, trees in the arctic over recent decades, probably related to climate change. While human activity in arctic regions may cause localized changes in vegetation and soils, the impact of global climate change may have regional consequences.
Vegetation is being monitored using plots that can re relocated exactly and re-measured. Measurements emphasize vegetation structure (the height and density of different kinds of plants, such as sedges and shrubs), and the species composition of lichens. Vegetation is a "Vital Sign" for the Arctic Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (ACRN).
Information gathered from research and monitoring will be used to:
Black Spruce - Learn about how black spruce trees grow and the role they play in the ecosystem of Gates of the Arctic.
Sounds of the Boreal Forest - Kick back and imagine yourself sitting in the middle of the boreal forest - while you enjoy the sounds and images of the forest.
Wildflowers found in Gates of the Arctic - Enjoy this video which includes narrated information with beautiful pictures of the unique flowers of the Arctic.
Tussocks - Thinking about going for a hike? Check this video out before you go.
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Did You Know?
Reminders of an older time, remains of ancient caribou skin tents can still be seen in Gates of the Arctic National Park. More...