Plant Associations

Denali National Park and Preserve is comprised of an amazing mosaic of plant associations that bring a complex texture to the landscape. When travelling through them, humans and other animals alike collect a unique sense of place, experiencing the pulse of biota present through their particular senses.

an alpine cushion plant
NPS Photo

A plant community is a collection of plant species that are found in association. Individual species in any particular plant community may grow together because they have similar habitat requirements (i.e., moisture and nutritional needs), because they can successfully compete for growing space, or because other species in that community provide microhabitat that suits them. Plant communities generally have physical boundaries on the landscape, such that you can move from one into another, and what you see and experience in each may be quite different.

Most assemblages occur repeatedly across the landscape in similar environments, and thus can be a poignant visual que to assessing conditions at a given site. Land managers and researchers studying large areas often find it helpful to identify and classify spatial polygons of like vegetation as a way to assess habitat or diversity conditions at a coarse scale. As you browse species accounts, following the Community Ecology link will bring up a listing of one such classification that describes the plant communities the selected species frequently occurs in.

landcover map

The Denali Landcover Mapping Project

Published in 2001, the Denali landcover mapping project was a multi-agency collaborative effort to utilize remotely-sensed satellite imagery and ground-based field data to create a visual representation of landcover across Denali’s six million acres — an effort proven critical for modeling habitat, fire fuel availability, sensitive species occurrence, and archaeological sites. The resulting map, shown here, was even inspiration for a quilt, where artists interpreted the landcover types with fabric. Read more about the landcover mapping project and classification in the documents below:

A Nested Classification

As you browse species accounts and follow the Community Ecology link, you may get lost in a maze of associated species. Single species are classified as members of zero, one, or many plant associations. Plant associations are classified as members of one or more landcover class — the colors depicted in the map above. For example, white spruce (Picea glauca) is found in 21 plant associations within 5 landcover classes (see diagram below). In the entire Park there are 96 identified plant associations occurring within 25 landcover classes.

Plant Comm. Chart: White Spruce, Landcover Class, Associations

Note that the listing of a species in a particular plant association or landcover class does not mean it will always or exclusively occur with other listed species, as every classification system is dependent on the scale to which you are investigating. We provide a digital and interactive version of the Denali Landcover Mapping Project accessible from the species accounts to encourage exploration of plant communities, and highlight the importance of a single species in the study plant community ecology.

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