We studied Mount Washburn (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) to describe alpine ecosystem function and evolution at an important site in the North-Central Rockies. To describe the alpine environment we sampled major environmental nodes (north-faces, south-faces, snowbanks, ridges, talus, and ledges). Our analysis was bolstered by the measurement, over five years, of seasonal soil water and temperature. Clusters representing nodal plant communities explained 86% of scatterplot variability, after accounting for spatial location, in a strong (non-metric r2 = 0.98) NMDS ordination. Water inputs and nutrient storage (also significant predictors of community structure) increased while soil temperature fell from southern to northern nodes. Seasonal soil water availability was strongly influenced by transpiration. As a result soils dried earlier than expected under dense north-facing turf and later than expected under talus and ledges. We propose that abiotic and biotic processes have combined to increase resources for northern nodes at the expense of southern nodes since the last glaciation. This is because soils have continually blown with snow from south slopes to north-facing lee slopes, improving their water and nutrient status. Increases in vegetation have further increased water and nutrient capture and decreased water and nutrient losses in a biologically driven positive feedback loop.
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