Mammal Community Assembly During Primary Succession on the Pumice Plain at the Mount St. Helens Volcano (1983–2015)

  • Charles M. Crisafulli
  • Robert R. Parmenter
  • Tara E. Blackman
  • James A. MacMahon


The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens created an outstanding opportunity to investigate mammal community assembly during primary succession. From 1983 through 2015, we documented the arrival of 34 of the 45 mammals in the regional species pool and the successful establishment of 25 species. The majority of small mammals that established were likely derived from source populations that survived in isolated refugia in adjacent areas that were less disturbed during the eruption, requiring dispersal distances of a few to several kilometers. In contrast, large mammals arrived from more distant source populations—tens of km away. The next important transition in mammal community assembly will likely occur in three or four decades, as shrub cover and coniferous tree density increases, leading to development of open-forest conditions that provide habitat for forest-associated species not yet established and concomitant decline of early-seral mammal species.


Mount St. Helens Volcanic disturbance Long-term studies Primary succession Small mammal Community assembly Rodents Insectivores Dispersal Colonization Biological establishment 



Long-term studies such as ours require the contributions by numerous individuals. We are particularly thankful to the cadre of technicians and graduate students who assisted with the fieldwork. Leslie Carraway at Oregon State University and Jeff Bradley at the Burke Museum aided in identification of voles and shrews. We thank the Burke Museum and Museum of Southwestern Biology for accession of our voucher collections. Kathryn Ronnenberg produced figures and made editorial improvements to this manuscript. Kelly Christiansen assisted with GIS-related figures. Chris Che-Castaldo generously provided mortality rate data for willow stems. This manuscript benefitted from comments provided by Virginia Dale and three anonymous reviewers. We thank the USDA Forest Service and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for providing access to our study sites. Funding for this research was provided by grants from the National Science Foundation (DEB81-16914, BSR 84-07213 to J.A.M., and LTREB Program DEB-0614538 to C.M.C.), and from the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.



A mammal is detected at a site either through capture in a trap or by visual observation.

Blast PDC

In the case of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, failure of the volcano’s north flank unroofed pressurized magma and superheated water. Rapid exsolution of magmatic gases and conversion of superheated water to steam produced a laterally directed blast, which formed a density current that flowed across rugged topography. The current contained fragmented rock debris as well as shattered forest material.

Community development

Process of any number of mammals belonging to a number of different species that co-occur in the same habitat or area and interact through trophic and spatial relationships.

Debris avalanche

A rapid granular flow of an unsaturated or partly saturated mixture of volcanic rock particles (± ice) and water, initiated by the gravitational collapse and disintegration of part of a volcanic edifice. Debris avalanches differ from debris flows in that they are not water saturated. Although debris avalanches commonly occur in association with eruptions, they can also occur during periods when a volcano is dormant.


Movement of a mammal from its point of origin or home site to another.


A species that is assumed to have a breeding population at a site based on the presence of one or more of the following three criteria: (a) ≥1 adult male and female detected at the same site during the same sampling session, (b) ≥1 pregnant or lactating females detected at a site, or (c) several juveniles of a species detected at a site during a single trapping session.


An Indonesian term for a rapid granular flow of a fully saturated mixture of volcanic rock particles (± ice), water, and commonly woody debris. A lahar that has ≥50% solids by volume is termed a debris flow; one that has roughly 10–50% solids by volume is termed a hyperconcentrated flow. Flow type can evolve with time and distance along a flow path as sediment is entrained or deposited.

Microtine rodents

A subfamily of rodents (Arvicolinae) that includes the voles, lemmings, and muskrats. At Mount St. Helens, they include three genera of herbivorous voles (Microtus, Myodes, and Phenacomys).

Pyroclastic flow

Rapid flow of a dry mixture of hot (commonly >700 °C) solid particles, gases, and air that has a ground-hugging flow often directed by topography. Flows are generally gravity driven but may be accelerated initially by impulsive lateral forces of directed volcanic explosions. Flows typically move at high velocity (up to several hundreds of km h−1).


Fragmental rock material ejected from a volcano during an eruption and deposited by airfall. It is typically composed of ash (less than 4 mm in diameter), lapilli (4- to 32-mm particles), and blocks (angular stones larger than 32 mm).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles M. Crisafulli
    • 1
  • Robert R. Parmenter
    • 2
  • Tara E. Blackman
    • 1
  • James A. MacMahon
    • 3
  1. 1.U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research StationMount St. Helens National Volcanic MonumentAmboyUSA
  2. 2.Valles Caldera National PreserveNational Park ServiceJemez SpringsUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biology and the Ecology CenterUtah State UniversityLoganUSA

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