Physical, chemical and thermal properties of five pedons in the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah were studied to determine how soils and microclimates vary across the ecotone between subalpine forest and dry meadow. All five profiles have developed in the same parent materials, from base upward: basal till, glaciofluvial sediment, and coarse supraglacial debris with infilled eolian silt. Temperatures were measured at the soil surface and at depths of 10 and 50 cm for 420 days. Meadow soils (Typic Humicryepts) are warmer, have Bw horizons, and contain more Ca, organic carbon, and clay in the A horizon. Forest soils (Inceptic Haplocryalfs) have Bt horizons, higher B/A horizon clay ratios, are more acidic, and contain more exchangeable Mg and total exchangeable cations than meadow soils. Although subzero temperatures were never recorded at the surface of the forest soil in the summers of 1998 and 1999, those at the surface of the meadow soil fell below 0 °C on ∼35% of the nights. Mean 4:00 a.m. temperatures in the meadow during the summer are significantly colder than those in the forest (2.2 °C vs. 5.2 °C). The meadow formed following an initial forest clearing event, possibly fire or an insect infestation. Since that time, forest encroachment has been slow because seedling establishment in the meadow is inhibited by a combination of frequent summer freezing events, moisture stresses resulting from textural discontinuities between soil parent materials, and competition between tree seedlings and meadow vegetation.
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