The wet to moist bryophyte-dominated vegetation of Sassendalen, Svalbard, was classified into seven communities. These communities were grouped into (1) Cardamino nymanii-Saxifragion foliolosae marsh; (2) Caricion stantis fen; (3) Luzulion nivalis snowbed – including manured vegetation corresponding to moss tundras. All communities have a basically arctic distribution. Marshes are developed in habitats with a water table above the bryophyte vegetation surface and fens on sites with a water table level high above the permafrost but below the bryophyte surface. Moss tundras normally have no standing water table, but in Sassendalen they have a low water table due to their development on less steep slopes than in their normal habitat near bird cliffs.
CCA confirms that the standing water level is the prime differentiating factor between the alliances, while aspect favourability and permafrost depth differentiate between the fen communities and temporary desiccation is important for the Catoscopium nigritum community. Carex subspathacea is a characteristic fen species in the absence of other Carex species dominating elsewhere in the Arctic. Arctic marshes are linked to an extremely cold environment. They have a very low species diversity with a few species dominating; Arctophila fulva, Pseudocalliergon trifarium, Scorpidium scorpioides and Warnstorfia tundrae are character species. Moss tundra as defined here appears to be restricted to Svalbard and, probably, neighbouring Novaya Zemlya. This may be due to the absence of rodents and the high seabird density, which is related to the mild sea currents reaching further to the north here and which implies manuring of surrounding ecosystems. Manuring in a very cold environment produces moss carpets with a thin active layer and accumulation of thick peat layers without a standing water level. In Sassendalen the role of arctic seabirds is replaced by Svalbard reindeer which are non-migratory and are concentrated to favourable grazing areas where their manuring effect is intense. Their long-term manuring effect probably explains the occurrence of moss tundras in this weakly rolling landscape where seabird colonies are absent.
Nomenclature: Elvebakk & Prestrud (1996) for species; Elvebakk (1994) for syntaxa.