Species-Specific Responses to Human Trampling Indicate Alpine Plant Size Is More Sensitive than Reproduction to DisturbanceNathalie Isabelle Chardon, Philippa Stone, Carly Hilbert, Teagan Maclachlan, Brianna Ragsdale, Allen Zhao, Katie Goodwin, Courtney G. Collins, Nina Hewitt, Cassandra Elphinstone
- Plant Science
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Human disturbance, such as trampling, is an integral component of global change, yet we lack a comprehensive understanding of its effects on alpine ecosystems. Many alpine systems are seeing a rapid increase in recreation and in understudied regions, such as the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, yet disturbance impacts on alpine plants remain unclear. We surveyed disturbed (trail-side) and undisturbed (off-trail) transects along elevational gradients of popular hiking trails in the T’ak’t’ak’múy’in tl’a In’inyáxa7n region (Garibaldi Provincial Park), Canada, focusing on dominant shrubs (Phyllodoce empetriformis, Cassiope mertensiana, Vaccinium ovalifolium) and graminoids (Carex spp). We used a hierarchical Bayesian framework to test for disturbance by elevation effects on total plant percent cover, maximum plant height and diameter (growth proxies), and buds, flowers, and fruits (reproduction proxies). We found that trampling reduces plant cover and impacts all species, but that effects vary by species and trait, and disturbance effects only vary with elevation for one species’ trait. Growth traits are more sensitive to trampling than reproductive traits, which may lead to differential impacts on population persistence and species-level fitness outcomes. Our study highlights that disturbance responses are species-specific, and this knowledge can help land managers minimize disturbance impacts on sensitive vegetation types.