Recognizing successional recovery gradients following release from disturbance is important for sustainable land management. To evaluate the recovery and transitions of vegetation post disturbance there needs to be a chronology of community succession. This study in northwestern Montana evaluated the composition of recognized plant communities and proposes successional recovery pathways of the native grassland following release from livestock grazing. Initial surveys were completed 15 years after grazing ended. Inventories of 16 herbaceous vegetation communities indicate that litter depth was the only statistically significant factor related to community composition (P = 0.03) and, importantly, was highly correlated with non-native species canopy cover (r = 0.904). The lack of litter was correlated with the persistence of three climax species (r = 0.736). Comparisons with published grassland community descriptions indicated the intermontane grasslands in this refuge are part of two Northern Fescue Grassland habitat types (Fescue campestris/F. idahoensis and F. idahoensis/Carex filifolia) rather than communities common to the Palouse Prairie. There are two possible transitional pathways within these grassland communities. These pathways appear to be related to local soil moisture regimes. Moister sites transition from the degraded (Poa compressa/ Thinopyrum intermedium) community to the lower seral (T. intermedium) community type, to the mid-seral (C. filifolia) community type and finally to the climax (F. campestris) community type. The drier pathway transitions from the degraded (P. compressa/T. intermedium) community to the lower seral (P. compressa/F. campestris) community type, then to the mid-seral (Moss) community and finally to the climax (F. idahoensis) community type.
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Vol. 90 • No. 4