21 Nov 2022
21 Nov 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

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

Arthur Bayle1,, Bradley Z. Carlson2,, Anaïs Zimmer3, Sophie Vallée4, Antoine Rabatel5, Edoardo Cremonese6, Gianluca Filippa6, Cédric Dentant7, Christophe Randin8, Andrea Mainetti9, Erwan Roussel10, Simon Gascoin11, Dov Corenblit10, and Philippe Choler1 Arthur Bayle et al.
  • 1Univ. Grenoble Alpes, Univ. Savoie Mont Blanc, CNRS, LECA, F-38000 Grenoble, France
  • 2Centre de Recherches sur les Écosystèmes d’Altitude (CREA), Observatoire du Mont-Blanc, F-74400 Chamonix, France
  • 3Department of Geography and the Environment, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA
  • 4Conservatoire Botanique National Alpin (CBNA), F-73000 Chambéry, France
  • 5Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, Grenoble-INP, Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement (IGE, UMR 5001), F-38000 Grenoble, France
  • 6Environmental Protection Agency of Aosta Valley, Climate Change Unit, Loc. La Maladière, 48, IT-11020 Saint Christophe (AO), Italy
  • 7Parc National des Ecrins, Domaine de Charance, Gap, France
  • 8Univ. Lausanne, Dept. of Ecology & Evolution/Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research (CIRM), Biophore, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 9Biodiversity Service and Scientific Research, Gran Paradiso National Park, Torino, Italy
  • 10Université Clermont Auvergne, CNRS, GEOLAB, Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 11CESBIO, Université de Toulouse, CNES/CNRS/IRD/INRAE/UPS, Toulouse, France
  • These authors contributed equally to this work.

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: open (until 02 Jan 2023)

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 reply

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.