Date of Award

5-2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Biology

Program

Biology

First Advisor/Chairperson

Dr. Alan J. Rebertus

Second Advisor

Dr. Alec R. Lindsay

Third Advisor

Susy S. Ziegler

Abstract

On Isle Royale National Park, heavy moose browsing over the past 100 years has suppressed the regeneration of many tree species, gradually resulting in a shift towards more open forests and savannas. By 1996, 16% of the forests at the southwest end of Isle Royale had become savanna and another 20% were starting to break-up. The changes in understory vegetation brought about by savanna formation have received little attention, even though the future of moose and wolf populations on Isle Royale are tied to these vegetation changes. This study examined the vegetation of savannas ranging in age (date since formation) from breakup, to extensive grassland, and finally to a zootic subclimax dubbed “moose-spruce savanna.“ Ordination techniques were used to describe plant communities and to identify environmental variables that influence vegetation development. Non-parametric multiplicative regression was used to predict how these variables influenced individual plants and structure within the communities. Plant communities had a notable shift from forest herbs to ruderal species, especially non-native plants. This succession was influenced strongly by the underlying bedrock and hydrology altering moisture regimes and plant communities. Picea glauca and Poa pratensis competed in a dynamic inhibitory relationship. The former facilitated forest plants while the latter out-competed other plants and promoted open swards. These interactions are dramatically changing the character of Isle Royale’s upland plant communities and will have important trophic consequences for the island.

Included in

Botany Commons

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