Plant Ecology

, Volume 219, Issue 8, pp 999–1008 | Cite as

Scale dependence of diversity in alpine tundra, Rocky Mountains, USA

  • George P. MalansonEmail author
  • Daniel B. Fagre
  • Dale L. Zimmerman


Drivers of alpine plant community composition have been observed to vary with scale. Diversity of alpine tundra across four regions of the Rocky Mountains and among plots within one region was examined relative to temperature and precipitation variables. For regional scale analyses, averages of three metrics of plot-level species diversity relative to environmental variables and regional gamma diversity were examined for a subset of 60 plots from a stratified random sample in each region. For local scale analyses, additional soil and climate variables were included at 96 plots from one of the four regions. Correlations and visual examination of bivariate plots elucidated possible controls of cold temperatures and gamma diversity on average diversity metrics among the four regions and of precipitation and/or location on plot-level metrics within the single region. For the latter, the bivariate graph indicated a triangular distribution in which all levels of diversity exist at low precipitation but only low diversity at higher precipitation. We propose that change in drivers with scale is a general result of the relative importance of temperature and water in seed production (temperature > water) and seedling establishment (vice versa), and the logical priority of seed production over seedling establishment.


Alpha diversity Climate Gamma diversity Precipitation Seed production Seedling establishment Shannon diversity Temperature 



All authors participated in the design of the study and in writing the final draft. DBF directed the field collection of data; GPM analyzed the data with advice from DLZ. This research was supported by US National Science Foundation award 1121305. Field work and botany was provided by Jen Asebrook and Jen Hintz of Calypso Ecological, LLC, Peter Lesica, Steve Cooper, and Kevin Jacks. Logistical support was afforded by Bill Bowman at Niwot Ridge and Roger Patison at Taos. Mitch Kinney organized and prepared the data. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


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© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply  2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geographical and Sustainability SciencesUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyNorthern Rocky Mountain Science CenterWest GlacierUSA
  3. 3.Department of Statistics and Actuarial ScienceUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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