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Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland

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Provisional State Rank: S5
* (see reason below)

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State Rank Reason
This is a widespread and resilient system, occupying a broad range within the national forests and parks. Species composition may change under drought or warming scenarios, but the system should remain relatively stable.
 

General Description

This system is found in the lower montane and foothill regions of western Montana, and north and east into the northern Rocky Mountains. These shrublands typically occur below treeline, within the matrix of surrounding low-elevation grasslands and sagebrush shrublands. They are usually found on steep slopes of canyons, on toeslopes and occasionally on valley bottom lands. These communities can occur on all aspects. In northwestern and west-central Montana, this system forms within Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests and adjacent to fescue grasslands and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) shrublands. In northwestern Montana, these shrublands commonly occur within the upper montane grasslands and forests along the Rocky Mountain Front. Immediately east of the Continental Divide, this system is found within montane grasslands and steep canyon slopes. Most sites have shallow soils that are either loess deposits or volcanic clays. Common ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), bittercherry (Prunus emarginata), common chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), rose (Rosa spp.), smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), and oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) are the most common dominant shrubs.


Diagnostic Characteristics
montane, lowland, shrubland, broad leaf deciduous shrub, very shallow soil, moderate persistence

Similar Systems

Range
This system is found in the lower montane and foothill regions north and east into the northern Rocky Mountains, including east into central Montana within the island ranges. It also occurs farther south into southwestern Montana, where it forms compositionally diverse shrublands.

Ecological System Distribution
Approximately 1,276 square kilometers are classified as Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland 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, BIG HORN, BLAINE, BROADWATER, CARBON, CASCADE, CHOUTEAU, DEER LODGE, FERGUS, FLATHEAD, GALLATIN, GLACIER, GOLDEN VALLEY, GRANITE, HILL, JEFFERSON, JUDITH BASIN, LAKE, LEWIS AND CLARK, LIBERTY, LINCOLN, MADISON, MEAGHER, MINERAL, MISSOULA, PARK, PHILLIPS, PONDERA, POWELL, RAVALLI, SANDERS, SILVER BOW, STILLWATER, SWEET GRASS, TETON, TOOLE, WHEATLAND

Spatial Pattern
Large Patch

Environment
These shrublands typically occur below treeline, within the matrix of surrounding low-elevation grasslands and sagebrush shrublands. They are usually found on steep slopes of canyons, toeslopes and occasionally on valley bottom lands. These communities can occur on all aspects.

Vegetation

In northwestern and west-central Montana, this system forms within Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests and adjacent to fescue grasslands and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) shrublands. In northwestern Montana, these shrublands commonly occur within the upper montane grasslands and forests along the Rocky Mountain Front. Immediately east of the Continental Divide, this system is found within montane grasslands and steep canyon slopes. Most sites have shallow soils that are either loess deposits or volcanic clays. The system often develops at the heads of dry drainages, and on toeslopes in the moist shrub-steppe and steppe zones. Common ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), bittercherry (Prunus emarginata), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), rose (Rosa spp.), smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), birchleaf spiraea (Spiraea betulifolia), and common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) are the most common dominant shrubs. Canadian buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis), and snowbrush ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus) are important nitrogen fixing shrubs in this system; these are more common in recently burned areas. In mesic areas, Douglas hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), prickly currant (Ribes lacustre), and alder buckthorn (Rhamnus alnifolia) are common, especially on north and east facing aspects.

Common graminoids found in this shrubland community include Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), rough fescue (Festuca campestris), pinegrass (Calamagrostis rubescens), Geyer’s sedge (Carex geyeri), prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), and bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata). Some of the more common forbs include Indian blanketflower (Gaillarida aristata) praire cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis), nineleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium triternatum), and arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata).


Alliances and Associations
Alliances
  • (A.962) Alderleaf Buckthorn Temporarily Flooded Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.917) Black Hawthorn Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.970) Bristly Black Currant Temporarily Flooded Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.919) Chokecherry Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.925) Common Snowberry Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.997) Douglas' Meadowsweet Seasonally Flooded Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.901) Hillside Oceanspray Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.928) Mallow Ninebark Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.913) Saskatoon Serviceberry Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.2636) Shinyleaf Meadowsweet Shrubland Alliance
  • (A.1536) Smooth Sumac Shrub Herbaceous Alliance
  • (A.959) Woods' Rose Temporarily Flooded Shrubland Alliance

Dynamic Processes
Fire, flooding and erosion all affect these shrublands, but they generally persist on sites for long periods (up to 500 years). All shrub species regenerate well following low to moderate intensity fires by re-sprouting from the root systems. Under present conditions, the fire regime is mixed severity and more variable, with stand-replacing fires being more common in adjacent forested habitats. Heavy grazing impacts can limit productivity of associated graminoids and forbs, allowing the spread of introduced grasses and invasive forbs.

Management
In the absence of natural fire, periodic prescribed burns can be used to maintain this system.

Restoration Considerations
These systems are rarely lost except in case of fire; restoration strategies will depend largely on fire severity. Light to moderately burned areas usually recover quickly from fire; most dominant shrubs resprout from rhizomatous root systems and root crowns. Intense fires that occur during summer months can cause considerable damage to these shrublands and seed banks. In some cases, severely burned sites on very steep terrain may need to be reseeded to prevent soil erosion.

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
L.K. Vance, T. Luna

Version Date
2/14/2010

References
  • Classification and Map Identifiers

    Cowardian Wetland Classification: Not applicable

    National Vegetation Classification Standard:
    Class Shrubland and Grassland
    Subclass Temperate and Boreal Shrubland and Grassland
    Formation Temperate Grassland, Meadow and Shrubland
    Division Vancouverian and Rocky Mountain Grassland and Shrubland
    Macrogroup Northern Rocky Mountain Lowland Grassland and Shrubland

    NatureServe Identifiers:
    Element Global ID
    System Code CES306.994, Northern Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland

    ReGAP:
    5312: Northern Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland



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Citation for data on this website:
Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland — Northern Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland.  Montana Field Guide.  Retrieved on August 28, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/displayES_Detail.aspx?ES=5312
 
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