Early primary succession on Mount St. Helens, Washington, USA



Abstract. The north slope of Mount St. Helens was sampled with 141 circular 100-m2 plots to describe vegetation and environmental patterns 13 yr after the 1980 eruption. At least 114 vascular plant taxa were encountered. We recognized four habitat types: Refugia, Pumice barrens, Pyroclastic surfaces and Drainages. A fifth category, Lupine patches, includes samples on primary surfaces that were rapidly colonized. Refugia provided small enclaves where underground portions of several species survived the eruption. They retained an inconsistent array of forest understory species and contained 86 species (mean = 20.8 per plot). Refugia are dominated by woody species such as Penstemon cardwellii, Rubus spp., Ribes spp. and Alnus sinuata, with herbs such as Agrostis diegoensis, Luzula parviflora and Anaphalis margaritacea. Anaphalis represents a suite of species that invaded Refugia after the eruption. Diversity (N2 and H′) is significantly greater in Refugia than in any other habitat. No plants survived on primary sites, which remain sparsely vegetated and dominated by readily dispersed taxa. Total richness ranges from 36 species (9.9 per plot) on pyroclastic surfaces, through 42 species (11.2 per plot) in drainages, to 66 (11.7 per plot) on Pumice barrens. H′ and N2 of the three habitats do not differ significantly. Lupine-dominated vegetation occurs sporadically in Pyroclastic and drainage habitats. Lupine patches are characterized by high Lupinus cover and a suite of invaders. These sites have high cover and 52 species (12.6 per plot). H′ and N2 scores were significantly lower than any other habitat due to strong lupine dominance. Canonical Correspondence Analysis showed that site history and slope contributed most to species composition. Geographic effects accounted for 10 25 % of the explained species-environment relationship. Forest understory species have migrated only short distances and have made negligible contributions to vegetation development. A few species common in Refugia, including Agrostis diegoensis and Carex mertensii, have invaded barren surfaces, but most have not. Refugia also have been invaded by open site species abundant on the Pumice Plain. The heterogeneity of plots within habitat types and small statistical linkage of vegetation to environmental and spatial factors suggests that stochastic events have played a leading role in early primary succession.