Directional change in upland tundra plant communities 20–30 years after seismic exploration in the Canadian low-arctic

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What is the disturbance response of low-arctic plant communities two to three decades after seismic exploration.


Mackenzie River Delta, low-arctic, northwestern Canada.


Plant communities in two upland tundra vegetation types were compared between winter seismic lines, created between 1970 and 1986, and adjacent “reference” tundra. Also, we used aerial surveys to quantify the total area impacted by visible linear features.


Vascular plant cover was significantly higher, and lichen cover significantly lower, on seismic lines than in reference tundra. The increase in vascular plant cover was attributable to deciduous shrubs and graminoids. There were significant differences in plant community composition between seismic lines and reference tundra but no differences in species diversity or richness. Betula glandulosa and Arctagrostis latifolia were significant indicator species for seismic lines, while Saussurea angustifolia was a significant indicator for reference tundra. Based on the aerial surveys, these effects apply to at least 90% of seismic lines from two-dimensional programs in these habitat types during the 1970s.


Vegetation composition and structure on 20–30-year-old seismic lines differs from reference upland tundra despite no persistent differences in organic layer depth or depth to permafrost. We propose that this reflects: (1) successional redevelopment following changes in soil conditions and nutrient availability arising from the disturbance, and/or (2) disturbance-initiated succession towards a community reflecting current climatic conditions.

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