Temporal dynamics in alpine snowpatch plants along a snowmelt gradient explained by functional traits and strategies

Brodie Verrall, Ken Green, Catherine Pickering

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Alpine snowpatches are characterised by persistent snow cover, short growing seasons and periglacial processes, which has resulted in highly specialised plant communities. Hence, these snowpatch communities are among the most threatened from climate change. However, temporal dynamics in snowpatch microclimate and plant composition are rarely explored, especially in the marginal alpine environments of Australia. Seven snowpatches were categorised into early, mid and late snowmelt zones based on growing season length, with soil temperatures recorded from 2003 to 2020 and plant composition surveyed in 84 1 m2 quadrats in 2007, 2013 and 2020. Microclimate, species diversity, plant cover and composition, along with community-weighted trait means and plant strategies were assessed to understand snowpatch dynamics in response to climate change. We found that growing season length and temperatures have increased in late melt zones, while changes were less consistent in early and mid melt zones. There were few changes in species diversity, but increases in graminoids and declines in snowpatch specialists in mid and late melt zones. Community-weighted plant height, leaf area and leaf weight also increased, particularly in mid and late melt zones, while plant strategies shifted from compositions of ruderal-tolerant to stress-tolerant. Here, we show that snowpatch communities are rapidly changing in response to longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures, with the greatest changes occurring where snow persists the longest. The results highlight the climate-induced loss of defining biotic and abiotic characteristics of snowpatches, as temporal convergence of compositions along snowmelt gradients threatens the distinctiveness of snowpatch plant communities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)155-171
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2022

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