Variations in growth, flowering, and phenology of two forbs, Acomastylis rossii and Bistorta bistortoides, were compared among six years (1983-1988) and five plant communities (fellfield, dry meadow, moist meadow, wet meadow, snowbed) at an alpine site in the Front Range of Colorado. The purpose was to determine the extent to which the phenological patterns of these species Varied among plant communities acid how interannual climate variability affects phenology and growth. There were significant differences in growth among communities for both species. In B. bistortoides, there were also significant differences among years, due primarily to the influence of a single year (1983) when leaf length increased by approximate to 10% and the average number of B. bistortoides leaves nearly doubled. Key phenological events of both species (initiation of growth, date of maximum leaf length, leaf number, and flower number) were related to snowmelt patterns, resulting in differences among communities. There were also significant differences among years, again primarily related to the single year 1983, the year of a major El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event that produced high snowfall amounts at the site. The increased leaf length in a high snow year is counterintuitive to the commonly accepted notion that alpine species may be limited by season length. We hypothesize that changes in phenology related to changes in snowfall or snowmelt will cause detectable changes in growth, but that these will not be predicted simply from phenology alone. Rather, the timing of snowmelt in relation to nutrient availability, soil moisture, and air temperature will be critical in determining how individual species respond.
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