We used a geographic information system and a Markov chain analysis to model vegetation succession on the Copper River Delta, Alaska, relative to moose (Alces alces) habitat availability and nutritional carrying capacity. Between 1959 and 1986 vegetation predominantly shifted from pioneer to later successional communities as a result of glacial retreat and earthquake uplift. Hypothesized vectors of vegetation composition in future decades indicate a trend toward an increase in late-successional communities. A decline in glacier-related disturbance has reduced the level of retrogression that maintains early successional communities in the outwash plain. In addition, landscape heterogeneity increased significantly between 1959 and 1986, particularly in the uplifted marsh. Winter severity was highly variable among years and was correlated with a shift in the location of moose wintering areas. As winter severity increased, there was increased use of the glacial outwash plain landform and its associated plant communities. Successional modeling suggests a decline in the availability of vegetation types important to moose during severe winters with deep snow. Low willow (Salix spp.) communities are expanding in the uplifted marsh, a landform used primarily during summer and mild winters. However, tall willow communities that provide winter forage are declining and are being replaced by Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis [Bong] Carr) forest in the glacial outwash plain. Consequently, nutritional carrying capacity of moose on the outwash plain during winter will decline by 42% during 1959–2013.
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Vol. 59 • No. 4