Changes to Vegetation

Repeat photography of vegetation changes below Piegan Glacier, USGS photo

Along with the slow, but noticeable, visual impact that melting glaciers in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem have had, changes to vegetation will slowly begin to alter the landscape as well. As the glaciers retreat, new areas for plant colonization will open up as soil is exposed.

Alpine areas are known to harbor a rich diversity of rare and endemic plants. A plant’s effectiveness at dispersal and migration plays a role in the structure and function of terrestrial communities. Some rare plants are slow to migrate or disperse when compared to annual or invasive plants. Climate change has already altered plant distribution and ranges. Many alpine plants have shifted upward in elevation and subalpine tree species are encroaching into higher elevations.

These changes in vegetative patterns are early warnings of potential harm to plant richness, diversity, and well-being. Models predict that by the year 2100, dense, moderately-moist, coniferous forests may become established throughout much of the glacial basins in Glacier National Park. Monitoring of alpine areas helps managers to better understand the effects climate change may have on the vegetation communities throughout the Crown.