Using sequential aerial photography, we identified changes in the spatial distribution of subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) habitat at the alpine treeline ecotone. Six 40-ha study sites in the McDonald Creek drainage of Glacier National Park contained subalpine fir forests that graded into alpine tundra. Over a 46-yr period, altitudinal changes in the location of alpine treeline ecotone were not observed. However, over this 46-yr period the area of krummholz, patch-forest, and continuous canopy forest increased by 3.4%, and tree density increased within existing patches of krummholz and patch-forest. Change in subalpine fir vegetation patterns within 100 m of trails was also compared to areas without trails. Within 100 m of trails, the number of small, discrete krummholz stands increased compared to areas without trails, but there was no significant change in total krummholz area. We used historical terrestrial photography to expand the period (to 70 yr) considered. This photography supported the conclusions that a more abrupt ecotone transition developed from forest to tundra at alpine treeline, that tree density within forested areas increased, and that krummholz became fragmented along trails. This local assessment of fine-grained change in the alpine treeline ecotone provides a comparative base for looking at ecotone change in other mountain regions throughout the world.
Additional publication details
A half century of change in alpine treeline patterns at Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.A.