Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research






Regents of the University of Colorado

Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



The development and maintenance of several types of visually striking vegetation patterns are controlled by positive feedback between pattern and process. These patterns are particularly common at ecotones, where the influence of positive feedback may affect the position and dynamics of the boundary between the adjacent biotic communities. In this study, I use dendrochronology to examine the role of feedback between existing trees and the establishment and survival of seedlings in the advancement of linear, finger-like strips of subalpine forest in Glacier National Park, Montana. A general upslope, windward to leeward pattern of older trees followed by progressively younger trees was evident in all sample transects, although in some cases this pattern repeated several times along the length of a transect, with each repetition originating leeward of boulders. Overall advancement rates varied from 0.28 to 0.62 m yr−1. The oldest trees established in the early to mid-1700s, but establishment and advancement increased rapidly after 1850, and peaked in the early 1900s. In addition, almost all seedlings established within 5 m downwind of existing trees between 1700 and 1850, while establishment beyond this distance was common after 1850. These patterns suggest that existing trees facilitate leeward seedling establishment and survival, by depositing wind-blown snow. These seedlings in turn modify their leeward environment, thus allowing forest advancement in a linear pattern. Feedback was critical for the survival of seedlings before 1800, and strongly controlled advancement between about 1800 and 1850, but appears to have had little effect on establishment patterns since that time. The importance of feedback between pattern and process may change over time and space as a result of changes in climatic conditions or biotic surroundings.