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Am J Bot. 2005 Dec;92(12):1948-56. doi: 10.3732/ajb.92.12.1948.

Vegetation patterns 25 years after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington, USA.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Box 355325, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-5325 USA.


In 2004, we surveyed the vegetation on Mount St. Helens to document changes since 1992. We asked how communities differentiate and if they develop predictable relationships with local environments. We sought evidence from links between species and environment and changes in community structure in 271 250-m(2) plots. The habitats of the seven community types (CTs) overlapped broadly. Ordination methods demonstrated weak correlations among species distributions and location, elevation, and surface variables. Comparisons to 1992 by habitat demonstrated a large increase in plant cover and substantial development of vegetation structure. Pioneer species declined while mosses increased proportionately leading to more pronounced dominance hierarchies in most habitats. In Lupinus colonies, dominance declined, and diversity increased due to the increased abundance of formerly rare species. On once barren sites, dominance increased, but diversity changed slightly, which suggested the incipient development of competitive hierarchies. Weak correlations between vegetation and the environment suggested that initially stochastic establishment patterns had not yet been erased by deterministic factors. A vegetation mosaic that is loosely controlled by environmental factors may produce different successional trajectories that lead to alternative stable communities in similar habitats. This result has implications for restoration planning.

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