Aim The impact of microscale frost disturbance on vegetation colonization and successionary trends was examined within patterned ground features of Little Ice Age chronosequences. The goal was to investigate and compare vegetation response to micro-site frost disturbance with that of previous studies done at a coarser landscape scale.
Location The study sites occur on Little Ice Age glacier forelands within Jotunheimen, Norway (61°–62° N). The forelands of the glaciers Slettmarkbreen, Styggedalsbreen and Vestre Memurubreen have been well studied providing chronological controls for landscape studies. Sorted patterned ground features are found within the chronosequences, typically declining with frost intensity and disturbance with increasing terrain age.
Methods Micro-plots (8.3 × 8.3 cm) were placed at the inner borders and centres of patterned ground features. Species were identified and per cent species cover and per cent cover of life-form category were noted. Nonparametric Kruskal–Wallis and Mann–Whitney U-tests were used to test for differences between percent cover of life-form categories within patterned ground features as well as to identify thresholds of successional change across the chronosequences.
Results Significant relationships between life-from groups and patterned ground positions of varying ages were deduced using nonparametric statistics. Findings were then used to discuss trends of succession within patterned ground features and across the chronosequences. Vegetation establishment occurs at the border positions of young (< 30 years) patterned ground features. With time and distance from the ice margin, vegetation encroaches inwards toward the disturbed centres. Succession within patterned ground exhibits several stages: (1) bryophytes/crusts and lichens, (2) grasses/sedges and (3) woody shrubs. The occurrence of forbs was sporadic and generally non-significant.
Main conclusions Frost disturbance in patterned ground appears to delay successional trends of vegetation communities when compared with previous studies on ‘stable’ terrain, producing micro-site lag effects. These small patches of disturbed ground are therefore important regarding vegetation assemblages across the landscape and are unlikely to be detected at the landscape scale.