Patterned-Ground Plant Communities along a bioclimate gradient in the High Arctic, Canada
Vonlanthen, Corinne M.; Walker, Donald A.; Raynolds, Martha K.; Kade, Anja; Kuss, Patrick; Daniëls, Fred J.A. Matveyeva, Nadezhda V.
Non-sorted circles, non-sorted polygons, and earth hummocks are common ground-surface features in arctic regions. They are caused by a variety of physical processes that occur in permafrost regions including contraction cracking and frost heave. Here we describe the vegetation of patterned-ground forms on zonal sites at three locations along an N-S transect through the High Arctic of Canada. We made 75 relevés on patterned-ground features (circles, polygons, earth hummocks) and adjacent tundra (interpolygon, intercircle, interhummock areas) and identified and classified the vegetation according to the Braun-Blanquet method. Environmental factors were correlated with the vegetation data using a nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordination (NMDS). We identified eleven communities: (1) Puccinellia angustata-Papaver radicatum community in xeromesic non-sorted polygons of subzone A of the Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map; (2) Saxifraga-Parmelia omphalodes ssp. glacialis community in hydromesic interpolygon areas of subzone A; (3) Hypogymnia subobscura-Lecanora epibryon community in xeromesic non-sorted polygons of subzone B; (4) Orthotrichum speciosum-Salix arctica community in xeromesic interpolygon areas of subzone B; (5) Cochlearia groenlandica-Luzula nivalis community in hydromesic earth hummocks of subzone B; (6) Salix arctica-Eriophorum angustifolium ssp. triste community in hygric earth hummocks of subzone B; (7) Puccinellia angustata-Potentilla vahliana community in xeromesic non-sorted circles and bare patches of subzone C; (8) Dryas integrifolia-Carex rupestris community in xeromesic intercircle areas and vegetated patches of subzone C; (9) Braya glabella ssp. purpurascens-Dryas integrifolia community in hydromesic non-sorted circles of subzone C; (10) Dryas integrifolia-Carex aquatilis community in hydromesic intercircle areas of subzone C; and (11) Eriophorum angustifolium ssp. triste-Carex aquatilis community in hygric intercircle areas of subzone C. The NMDS ordination displayed the vegetation types with respect to complex environmental gradients. The first axis of the ordination corresponds to a complex soil moisture gradient and the second axis corresponds to a complex geology/elevation/climate gradient. The tundra plots have a greater moss and graminoid cover than the adjacent frost-heave communities. In general, frost-heave features have greater thaw depths, more bare ground, thinner organic horizons, and lower soil moisture than the surrounding tundra. The morphology of the investigated patterned ground forms changes along the climatic gradient, with non-sorted polygons dominating in the northernmost sites and non-sorted circles dominating in the southern sites.