The alpine environment is the product of the interaction of extreme natural conditions, such as high winds, low temperatures, scouring and burial by snow and ice, high incident solar radiation, thin atmosphere, and a short growing season.
Adaptations of species to these conditions, such as low stature, determinant growth cycles, and specific leaf morphology, can result in tight relationships between species persistence and environmental processes (drivers and stressors). Changes in weather and climate patterns, nutrient budgets (due to atmospheric deposition), and human use impacts all have potentially critical influence on the health of alpine communities.
The Rocky Mountain Network selected alpine ecosystems as an important monitoring target because they are important to park staff and visitors, and because they are threatened by changes in the systemic drivers.
- Determine the status and trend in vegetation composition and structure of four sentinel alpine peak communities at a range of elevations.
- Determine status and trend in cover of invasive and exotic plant species at four sentinel alpine peak communities at a range of elevations.
- Determine the status and trend in soil temperature at four sentinel alpine peak communities at a range of elevations.
- Determine the status and trend in soil physical and chemical properties including: soil carbon and nitrogen content, pH, and extent of bare (non-vegetated) soils at four sentinel alpine peak communities.
- Determine the status and trend of herbivore disturbance based on the presence of feces, trampling, and browsing damage at four sentinel alpine peak communities at a range of elevations.
Protocol Development and Status
The Rocky Mountain Network has published an Alpine Vegetation & Soils protocol, which adapts an international protocol to monitor vegetation and climate changes in alpine communities. The Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA), is a monitoring program initiated in 2001 with a goal of providing a global baseline for vegetation monitoring in alpine environments and assessing the risks of biodiversity loss and ecosystem instability from climate change. Monitoring data are collected across the globe by local cooperators using an array of soil temperature loggers and long-term plots to measure vegetation on a set of neighboring peaks.
The Rocky Mountain Network Alpine Vegetation & Soils protocol includes measures of soil chemistry, natural and human disturbance, and photographic documentation of treeline.
A GLORIA site was established in Glacier National Park by the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in 2003. The Rocky Mountain Network, with the help of park staff, established GLORIA sites in Rocky Mountain National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in 2009. In 2011, the Rocky Mountain Network, with assistance from the park and the Greater Yellowstone Network and Colorado Natural Heritage Program, established a site in Yellowstone National Park. We are working with our park and network partners to collaboratively monitor this series of alpine sites for the long-term along a broad latitudinal gradient in the Rocky Mountain Region.
Parks This Protocol is Monitored At
Vital Signs This Protocol Monitors
- Invasive/Exotic Plants
- Focal Species (Elk)
- Vegetation Composition, Structure, and Soils
- Weather and Climate