Recovery of Productivity and Species Diversity in Tussock Tundra Following Disturbance Academic Article uri icon


  • Tundra ecosystems appear to recover slowly from disturbnnce, but little long-term data concerning plant diversity has been available. We examined recovery of tundra vegetation in Alaska, U.S.A., 23 yr after fire and 24 yr after bulldozing. Primary productivity, depth of thaw, and vascular giant diversity were compared between disturbed and undisturbed tundra to determine whether recovery was complete. Productivity, species richness, and diversity did not differ between burned and unburned plots. Depth of thaw, however, remained greater in burned relative to unburned plots. In contrast, depth of thaw was the only characteristic that did not differ between bulldozed and control plots. Productivity and species richness were greater in bulldozed plots, but diversity was less than control plots. The differences between the two disturbances suggest that, ultimately, recovery depends more on the impact of disturbance on vegetation than changes in the abiotic environment. Vegetative propagules persisted in the soil after fire, but not bulldozing. Therefore, recolonization after fire included plants from the seed bank and vegetative propagules. Vegetation on bladed plots was dominated only by seed bank species. Thus, more than two decades after disturbance, recovery of tundra vegetation appeared to be a function of the nature of the disturbance.

publication date

  • August 1999