Effects of recreational traffic on alpine plant communities in the northern Canadian Rockies

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Abstract: Recreational activities in alpine areas have been increasing in recent decades, creating the need to improve our understanding of the impacts of these activities and how they are best managed. We explored impacts of recreational trail use on dry alpine meadows in the northern Canadian Rockies of Alberta. Data collected in 142 plots (0.5 m X I m) were used to compare plant community metrics among (1) a recreational trail, (2) intact tundra meadows (undisturbed), and (3) sparsely vegetated gravel steps formed by frost disturbance (naturally disturbed). As compared to undisturbed tundra, trails had substantially lower cover of vascular plants (4% vs. 35%), lichen (0% vs. 10%), and cryptogamic crust (0% vs. 4%); trails also had lower species richness (7 vs. 11 species per plot), but greater soil compaction (2.75 vs. 1.25 kg cm(-2)). Trails differed from natural gravel steps, which had three times more biotic cover and different composition. This highlights the difference in effects of human and natural disturbance. Positive feedback effects of trampling in tundra ecosystems may lead to altered environmental conditions, including decreased infiltration capacity and nutrient cycles in soils, and more extreme temperatures at the soil surface. These feedbacks could inhibit regeneration of abandoned trails.

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  • Type of Item
    Article (Published)
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  • License
    © 2012 University of Colorado at Boulder - Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Crisfield, V., S.E. Macdonald, J. Gould. 2012. Effects of recreational traffic on alpine plant communities in the northern Canadian Rockies. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 44: 277-287. DOI: 10.1657/1938-4246-44.3.277.