The response of arctic tundra plant communities to human trampling disturbance

Document Type


Journal/Book Title

Journal of Environmental Management

Publication Date




First Page


Last Page



A 4-year study was conducted to evaluate the consequences of human trampling on dryas and tussock tundra plant communities. Treatments of 25, 75, 200 and 500 trampling passes were applied in 0·75 m2vegetation plots at a time of approximately peak seasonal biomass. Immediately after and 1 and 4 years after trampling, plots were evaluated on the basis of plant species cover, percent bare ground, vegetation height, and soil penetration resistance. One year after trampling, soils were collected for nitrogen analysis in highly disturbed and control plots. Immediately after trampling, 500 trampling passes resulted in approximately 50% cover loss in the dryas tundra and 70% cover loss in tussock tundra, but both communities showed a substantial capacity for regrowth. Plots where low and moderate levels of trampling were applied returned to pre-disturbance conditions by 4 years after trampling, but impact was still evident in plots subjected to high levels of disturbance. These results suggest that these tundra communities can tolerate moderate levels of hiking and camping provided that use is maintained below disturbance thresholds and that visitors employ appropriate minimum-impact techniques. By utilizing this information in a visitor education program combined with impact monitoring and management, it is possible to allow dispersed camping and still maintain these vegetation communities with a minimum of observable impact.

This document is currently not available here.