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Keywords:

  • landscape ecology;
  • forest-tundra ecotone;
  • GIS;
  • global change

Landscapes in the ecotone between forest and tundra contain a mosaic of patches of trees, meadows, lakes, disturbed areas, and other features. The structure of this mosaic affects species habitat and potential ecotone response to global change. However, the alpine forest-tundra ecotone may be insensitive to climatic change if it is a climatic relict or is frequently disturbed. We used GIS and multivariate statistics to (1) analyze landscape structure in transects across the ecotone in Rocky Mountain National Park, (2) identify the major variants of forest-tundra ecotone, and (3) identify the influence of the environment and natural disturbances on variation in the landscape structure of the ecotone. There are six major types of ecotone varying in the amount of natural disturbances, permanent features (e.g., lakes), closed forest, patch forest, and krummholz. Variation is primarily related to slope, elevation, aspect, and geology associated with the morphology of the mountains and the disturbances they produce. The ecotone is not strongly structured by natural disturbances; thus, it may be more strongly controlled by and sensitive to climatic change than in areas where disturbance is more prevalent. Monitoring of potential ecotone response to global change is feasible, if tailored to the types of ecotone and their expected response.