21 Nov 2022
 | 21 Nov 2022

Local environmental context drives heterogeneity of early succession dynamics in alpine glacier forefields

Arthur Bayle, Bradley Z. Carlson, Anaïs Zimmer, Sophie Vallée, Antoine Rabatel, Edoardo Cremonese, Gianluca Filippa, Cédric Dentant, Christophe Randin, Andrea Mainetti, Erwan Roussel, Simon Gascoin, Dov Corenblit, and Philippe Choler

Abstract. Glacier forefields have long provided ecologists with a model to study patterns of plant succession following glacier retreat. While plant survey-based approaches applied along chronosequences provide invaluable information on plant communities, the “space-for-time” approach assumes environmental uniformity and equal ecological potential across sites and does not account for spatial variability in initial site conditions. Remote sensing provides a promising avenue for assessing plant colonisation dynamics using a so-called “real-time” approach. Here, we combined 36 years of Landsat imagery with extensive field sampling along chronosequences of deglaciation for eight glacier forefields in the south-western European Alps to investigate the heterogeneity of early plant succession dynamics. Based on the two complementary and independent approaches, we found strong variability in the time lag between deglaciation and colonisation by plants and in subsequent growth rates, and in the composition of early plant succession. All three parameters were highly dependent on the local environmental context, i.e., local vegetation surrounding the forefields and energy availability linked to temperature and snowmelt gradients. Potential geomorphological disturbance did not emerge as a strong predictor of succession parameters, perhaps due to insufficient spatial resolution of predictor variables. Notably, elapsed time since deglaciation showed no consistent relationship to plant assemblages, i.e., we did not identify a consistent order of successional species across forefields as a function of time. Overall, both approaches converged towards the conclusion that early plant succession is not stochastic as previous authors have suggested but rather deterministic. We discuss the importance of scale in deciphering the unique complexity of plant succession in glacier forefields and provide recommendations for improving botanical field surveys and using Landsat time series in glacier forefields systems. Our work demonstrates complementarity between remote sensing and field-based approaches for both understanding and predicting future patterns of plant succession in glacier forefields.

Arthur Bayle et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1164', Thomas Wagner, 29 Nov 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC1', Arthur Bayle, 23 Mar 2023
  • CC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1164', Danilo Godone, 21 Feb 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on CC1', Arthur Bayle, 04 Mar 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1164', Jana Eichel, 02 Mar 2023
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC2', Arthur Bayle, 23 Mar 2023

Arthur Bayle et al.


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Short summary
Glacier forefields have long provided ecologists with a model to study patterns of plant succession following glacier retreat. We used remote sensing approaches to study early succession dynamics as it allows to analyze the deglaciation, colonisation and vegetation growth within a single framework. We found that the heterogeneity of early succession dynamics is deterministic and can be well explained by local environmental context. This work has been done by an international consortium.