Riverside terraces along the Kugururok River in the Noatak National Preserve provided an opportunity to study primary succession, considering general trends that apply across all terraces, and unique events that influence individual terraces. The 30-year-old willow/poplar (Salix spp., Populus balsamifera L.) terrace had no trees taller than 1.5 m; the abundant spruce trees were not tall enough to emerge from the canopy height of the willows and poplars, and moose (Alces alces [Clinton]) browsing limited the canopy height of these plants. The 75-year-old poplar/spruce (Picea glauca [Moench] Voss) terrace had a high density of poplars (> 1000/ha) and low density of spruce (125/ha); heavy browsing by moose reduced the density of poplar by about one-half. The removal of the poplar by moose in this stand resulted in sustained increases in growth of individual spruce trees. The 100-year-old younger spruce/poplar terrace had about twice as many spruce trees (1250/ha) as poplar trees (500/ha), and the spruce trees were larger on average than the poplar trees. In the 220+ year-old older spruce/poplar type, only a few poplars remained (about 25/ha), and the number of spruce trees (600/ha) was only half that of the younger stage, either from lower initial spruce density on this terrace, or increased mortality of spruce. The 240+ year-old spruce type was a second-generation forest, characterized by a high density (1950/ha) of small spruce trees, some of which were tilted, indicating discontinuous permafrost. Plant litterfall mass showed no strong trend with terrace age, although N content of litterfall appeared to decline by about 1/3 in the spruce-dominated stages. Fungal biomass increased with ecosystem age, whereas bacterial biomass and microfauna declined. We found no evidence of declining soil N supply in older stages, but fertilization experiments would be needed to determine if N limitation of productivity changed with ecosystem development. We conclude that the general successional trend of increased spruce dominance is robust for this location, but that unique events play important roles in determining tree densities and the timing of the shift in dominance from poplar to spruce. The arrival of moose in the 1970s accelerated dominance by spruce on young terraces.
Additional publication details
Ecosystem development on terraces along the Kugururok River, northwest Alaska