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Montana Field Guides

Active and Stabilized Dune

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Provisional State Rank: S4

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General Description

In Montana, this system is only documented from the CentennialValley, where it develops in environments subjected to high winds and sand substrates. Vegetation is sparse on active, moving dunes and moderate on more stabilized dunes. Early and mid-seral species occupying these environments are adapted to moving sands. Basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata), mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana) and three-tip sagebrush (Artemisia tripartita ssp. tripartita) contribute a moderate amount of cover on stabilized dunes and are associated with needle and thread (Hesperostipa comata) or, in more mesic conditions, Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis). Early- and mid-seral shrub communities in these dunes are dominated by greenrabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), and needle and thread. Periodic drought, grazing, pocket gopher burrowing activity and fire are the main dynamics influencing this system.


Diagnostic Characteristics
dune (landform), dune (substrate), sand soil texture, aridic, temperate

Similar Systems

Range
This system occurs in Intermountain Basins of the western United States including southwestern Montana in the Centennial Valley.

Ecological System Distribution
Approximately 75 square kilometers are classified as Active and Stabilized Dune in the 2013 Montana Land Cover layers.  Grid on map is based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle map boundaries.



Montana Counties of Occurrence
BEAVERHEAD, ROOSEVELT, SHERIDAN

Spatial Pattern
Large Patch

Environment
This is a minor system in Montana, primarily found in the Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana. It occurs as a mosaic, with land cover ranging from shifting, bare dunes with little to no vegetation (usually immediately post-disturbance) to anchored and stabilized dunes with sparse to moderate shrub cover in later successional stages. Throughout its North American range, the system develops in areas with sand substrates and high winds. The Centennial occurrence formed following the drying of post-Pleistocene lakes, when sediments were blown out of the lake basins and the remaining sands were distributed to the northeast of these sources.

Vegetation

Across the system’s U.S. range, the typical primary successional sere on sands appears to be as follows: bare sand or sparse herbaceous vegetation on migrating sand; denser herbaceous vegetation or stands of rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) on anchored or recently stabilized sand; and shrub vegetation of sagebrush (Artemisia species) on longer-stabilized sands. In the Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana, early- and mid-seral shrub communities in dunes are dominated by greenrabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), rubber rabbitbrush, horse brush (Tetradymia cancescens) and needle and thread (Hesperostipa comata). Several plant species of concern occur in the Centennial Valley dunes and are associated with early-successional stages. In areas where the dunes are stabilized, basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata) and three-tip sagebrush (Artemisia tripartita ssp. tripartita) contribute a moderate amount of cover and are associated with needle and thread (Hesperostipa comata) or, in more mesic conditions, mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana) and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis). These dunes bear a resemblance to the St. Anthony dunes in Idaho (Chadwick and Dalke 1965) but are distinct in many respects.


Alliances and Associations
Alliances
  • (A.1521) Basin Big Sagebrush Shrub Herbaceous Alliance
  • (A.829) Basin Big Sagebrush Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.835) Rubber Rabbitbrush Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.1528) Threetip Sagebrush Shrub Herbaceous Alliance

Dynamic Processes
Periodic drought influences dune migration rates by reducing anchoring vegetation cover (Marin, 2005; Jones 2006; Forman et al., 2006). Disturbances by fire, grazing, and burrowing are important processes influencing successional dynamics (Lesica and Cooper 1997). Fire removes dominant shrubs in stabilized areas and maintains pocket gopher habitat, creating bare areas capable of supporting early successional species.

Management
Grazing and occasional wildfires are the primary forces affecting this system. Although not widespread in the Centennial Valley, off-road travel can be detrimental to the sparse vegetation cover.

Restoration Considerations
Fire followed by intensive ungulate grazing may be the only way to restore early seral vegetation that supports plant species and associations of concern in low-lying areas. In stabilized areas, restoring presettlement fire frequency will maintain pocket gopher habitat and thus promote a high proportion of early seral vegetation (Lesica and Cooper 1997).

Species Associated with this Ecological System
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Original Concept Authors
Natureserve Western Ecology Group

Montana Version Authors
T. Luna, L. Vance, S.V. Cooper

Version Date
1/17/2010

References
  • Classification and Map Identifiers

    Cowardian Wetland Classification: Not applicable

    National Vegetation Classification Standard:
    Class Semi-Desert
    Subclass North American Cool Semi-Desert Scrub
    Formation Cool Semi-Desert Scrub and Grassland
    Division Western North America Cool Semi-Desert Scrub and Grassland
    Macrogroup Cool Semi-Desert Xero-Riparian

    NatureServe Identifiers:
    Element Global ID 28613
    System Code CES304.775, Inter-Mountain Basins Active and Stabilized Dune

    National Land Cover Dataset:
    71: Grassland/Herbaceous

    ReGAP:
    3160: Inter-Mountain Basins Active and Stabilized Dune


  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Chadwick, H. W., and P. D. Dalke. 1965. Plant succession on dune sands in Fremont County, Idaho. Ecology 46:765-780.
    • Forman, S L, M Spaeth, L Marín, J Pierson, J Gómez, F Bunch, and A Valdez. 2006. "Episodic Late Holocene dune movements on the sand-sheet area, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, San Luis Valley, Colorado, USA". Quaternary Research. 66 (1): 97.
    • Jones GP. 2006. Survey of tall sagebrush vegetation on stabilized sands in the Jack Morrow Hills Coordinated Management Area, BLM Rock Springs Field Office, Wyoming. Laramie, WY: Wyoming Natural Diversity Database; A report prepared for the Bureau of Land Management's Rock Springs Field Office.
    • Lesica, P. & S. V. Cooper. 1998. Succession and disturbance in sandhills vegetation: constructing models for managing biological diversity. Conservation Biology 13:293-302.
    • Marin, L, S L Forman, A Valdez, and F Bunch. 2005. "Twentieth century dune migration at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, relation to drought variability". Geomorphology. 70 (1): 163.

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Citation for data on this website:
Active and Stabilized Dune — Inter-Mountain Basins Active and Stabilized Dune.  Montana Field Guide.  Retrieved on July 25, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/displayES_Detail.aspx?ES=3160
 
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