Vegetation colonization of permafrost-related landslides, Ellesmere Island, Canadian High Arctic



[1] Relationships between vegetation colonization and landslide disturbance are analyzed for 12 active-layer detachments of differing ages located in three areas of the Fosheim Peninsula, Ellesmere Island (80°N). We discuss vegetation as an age index for landslides and a way to assess the time needed for complete recolonization of the surfaces since landslide detachment. Vegetation on undisturbed terrain is similar in the three areas but is more highly developed and complex inland due to a warmer summer climate. On a regional scale, the location of the area is as important as the effect of landslide age on vegetation colonization because of the influence of mesoclimatic conditions on vegetation development. On a landscape scale, there is a positive relationship between landslide age and vegetation development, as represented by total vegetation cover, floristic composition, and successional stage. Consequently, vegetation can be used at this scale as an indicator of landslide age. Fifty years are required to restore vegetation patches to a floristic composition similar to communities occurring in undisturbed conditions, but with lower floristic richness and a discontinuous cover and without well-developed layering. The shorter time needed for landslide recovery in the area with the warmest summer climate confirms the sensitivity of arctic vegetation to small differences in air temperature. This could trigger a set of interlinked feedbacks that would amplify future rates of climate warming.