Invasion of dwarf bamboo into alpine snow-meadows in northern Japan: pattern of expansion and impact on species diversity


Gaku Kudo, Faculty of Environmental Earth Science, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0810, Japan. Tel: +81-11-706 2269; Fax: +81-11-706 4954; E-mail:


Recently, a dwarf bamboo species, Sasa kurilensis; Poaceae, has invaded into alpine snow-meadows in the wilderness area of the Taisetsu Mountains, northern Japan. This dwarf bamboo species has a wide distribution range from lowland to alpine sites of snowy regions. Because of the formation of dense evergreen culms and an extensive rhizome system, other plants are excluded following invasion by this dwarf bamboo, resulting in low species diversity. Dwarf bamboo originally inhabited the leeward slopes of alpine dwarf pine (Pinus pumila) clumps in alpine regions. During the last 32 years, however, dwarf bamboo has expanded its distribution area by up to 47% toward snow-meadows, especially on southeastern facing slopes. This rapid change may be related to the decrease in soil moisture and expansion of the annual growing period caused by the recent acceleration of snowmelt time. A multiyear census revealed that the density of bamboo culms increased 30–150% during 2 years, and the annual expansion of bamboo rhizomes was 39 cm on average. In addition to the expansion of bamboo clumps by vegetative growth, the possibility of migration by seed dispersal was also suggested by a genet analysis. With the increase in culm density, the species richness of snow-meadow vegetation decreased to less than one-quarter of the original level due to intense shading by dwarf bamboo. The rapid vegetation change in these almost pristine alpine environments isolated from the human activity implies that global climate change already influences the alpine ecosystem.