Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2019, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (7): 1127-1141.doi: 10.1007/s11442-019-1649-3

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Plant functional traits and microbes vary with position on striped periglacial patterned ground at Glacier National Park, Montana

Martha Elizabeth APPLE1(), Macy Kara RICKETTS2, Alice Caroline MARTIN3   

  1. 1. Department of Biological Sciences, Montana Technological University, Butte, Montana 59701, USA
    2. Department of Botany, The University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA
    3. Division of Biological Sciences, The University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, USA
  • Received:2018-05-10 Accepted:2019-01-22 Online:2019-07-25 Published:2019-07-25
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    Author: APPLE Martha Elizabeth, E-mail:


The retreating snowfields and glaciers of Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, present alpine plants with changes in habitat and hydrology. The adjacent and relic periglacial patterned ground consists of solifluction terraces of green, vegetation-rich stripes alternating with sparsely vegetated brown stripes. We established georeferenced transects on striped periglacial patterned ground for long-term monitoring and data collection on species distribution and plant functional traits at Siyeh Pass and at Piegan Pass at Glacier National Park. We documented species distribution and calculated the relative percent cover (RPC) of qualitative functional traits and used 16S rRNA from soil samples to characterize microbial distribution on green and brown stripes. Plant species distribution varied significantly and there were key differences in microbial distribution between the green and brown stripes. The rare arctic-alpine plants Draba macounii, Papaver pygmaeum, and Sagina nivalis were restricted to brown stripes, where the RPC of xeromorphic taprooted species was significantly higher at the leading edge of the Siyeh Pass snowfield. Brown stripes had a higher percentage of the thermophilic bacteria Thermacetogenium and Thermoflavimicrobium. Green stripes were co-dominated by the adventitiously-rooted dwarf shrubs Salix arctica and the possibly N-fixing Dryas octopetala. Green stripes were inhabited by Krummholz and seedlings of Abies lasiocarpa and Pinus albicaulus. Prosthecobacter, a hydrophilic bacterial genus, was more abundant on the green stripes, which had 6,524 bacterial sequences in comparison to the 1,183 sequences from the brown stripes. While further research can determine which functional traits are critical for these plants, knowledge of the current distribution of plant species and their functional traits can be used in predictive models of the responses of alpine plants to disappearing snowfields and glaciers. This research is important in conservation of rare arctic-alpine species on periglacial patterned ground.

Key words: alpine plants, plant functional traits, microbes, periglacial patterned ground, climate change, Glacier National Park, Montana