The role of refugia and dispersal in primary succession on Mount St. Helens, Washington


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Abstract. An intense lateral blast devastated Mount St. Helens in 1980, but forest understory species survived in some north-slope ‘refugia’. We explored the effects of refugia on colonization of barren pumice in 1997 and 1998, 18 yr after the eruption. The seed rain of 23 colonizers came mostly from populations that had previously established in refugia. Parachutists had small, vagile seeds, parasailors had winged seeds, and tumblers were blown along the ground. The latter two groups are heavier and dispersed more slowly, but are more likely to survive. The proportion of the vegetation represented by wind-dispersed species increased with distance from refugia. Parachutist's density declined with time and proximity to refugia. As vegetation adjacent to refugia developed, populations of parasailors and tumblers expanded, foreshadowing their dominance in more remote pumice. Refugia played a critical role in determining the rate and course of succession by providing fertile islands that permitted pioneers and dry meadow species to establish near barren pumice. Species that survived in refugia played a negligible role in colonization. This study showed that when refugia contrast sharply with new substrates, they accelerate recovery by facilitating the invasion of pioneer species.