Abstract. Patterns of plant succession were studied in areas of scorched and blown‐down forest resulting from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington. Changes in species abundance were observed for 7 years in permanent sample plots representing four post‐disturbance habitats, or site types. Total plant cover and species richness increased with time on all site types. In blown‐down forests supporting snowpack at the time of eruption, understory recovery was dominated by the vegetative regeneration of species persisting through disturbance. In forests without snowpacks, plant survival was poorer. Increases in cover and diversity were dominated first by introduced grasses, then by colonizing forbs characteristic of early successional sites. Epilo‐bium angustifolium and Anaphalis margaritacea showed widespread recruitment and clonal expansion throughout the devastated area. As a result, species composition on previously forested sites converged toward that on formerly clearcut sites, where early serai forbs resprouted vigorously from beneath the tephra. Total plant cover and species diversity were poorly correlated with post‐disturbance habitat and general site characteristics (e.g. distance from the crater, elevation, slope, and aspect). However, distributions of several life‐forms (e.g. low sub‐shrubs and tall shrubs) were strongly correlated with depth of burial by tephra and with cover of tree rootwads. Thus, early community recovery may reflect microsite variation or chance survival and recruitment rather than broad‐scale gradients in environment or disturbance. Recovery of pre‐disturbance composition and structure will undoubtedly be much slower than after other types of catastrophic disturbance. The rate and direction of community recovery will largely depend on the degree to which original understory species survived the eruption.
Journal of Vegetation Science – Wiley
Published: Apr 1, 1990
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