Rocky Mountain Subalpine-Montane Mesic Meadow
Provisional State Rank
(see reason below)
State Rank Reason
This system may experience a decline if climate change results in a decrease in snowpack; currently grazing and hydrologic modification are threats
This system is restricted to sites from lower montane to subalpine elevations where finely textured soils, snow deposition, or windswept conditions limit tree establishment. Many occurrences are small patches, and are often found in mosaics within woodlands, dense shrublands, or just below alpine communities. Elevations range from 600 to2,011 meters (2,000-6,600 feet) in the northern Rocky Mountains and up to 2,286-2,682 meters (7,500-8,800 feet) in the mountains of southwestern Montana. This system occurs on gentle to moderate-gradient slopes and in relatively moist habitats. Soils are typically seasonally moist to saturated in the spring, but dry out later in the growing season. At montane elevations, soils are usually clays or silt loams, and some occurrences may have inclusions of hydric soils in low, depressional areas. At subalpine elevations, soils are derived a variety of parent materials, and are usually rocky or gravelly with good aeration and drainage, but with a well developed organic layer. Some occurrences are more heavily dominated by grasses, while others are more dominated by forbs. Common grasses include tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa), showy oniongrass (Melica spectabilis), mountain brome (Bromus carinatus), blue wildrye (Elymus glaucus), awned sedge (Carex atherodes), and small wing sedge (Carex microptera). Forb dominated meadows usually comprise a wide species diversity which differs from montane to subalpine elevations. Shrubs such as shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda) and snowberry (Symphoricarpos species) are occasional but not abundant. This system differs from the Rocky Mountain Alpine Montane Wet Meadow system in that it soils dry out by mid-summer.
Montane, herbaceous, forb, udic, silt and clay soil texture
This system is very widespread in the Rocky Mountain cordillera from New Mexico north into Canada. It is found throughout the Rocky Mountains and occurs in island mountain ranges of Montana.
Ecological System Distribution
Approximately 3,063 square kilometers are classified as Rocky Mountain Subalpine-Montane Mesic Meadow in the 2017 Montana Land Cover layers.
Grid on map is based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle map boundaries.
Montana Counties of Occurrence
Beaverhead, Big Horn, Broadwater, Carbon, Cascade, Deer Lodge, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Granite, Jefferson, Judith Basin, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Madison, Meagher, Mineral, Missoula, Park, Pondera, Powell, Ravalli, Sanders, Silver Bow, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Teton, Wheatland
This system is restricted to sites from lower montane to subalpine elevations where finely textured soils, snow deposition, or windswept conditions limit tree establishment. Many occurrences are small patches, often found in mosaics within woodlands, dense shrublands, or just below alpine communities. Elevations range from 600 to 2,011 meters (2,000-6,600 feet) in the northern Rocky Mountains and from 2,286 to 2,682 meters (7,500-8,800 feet) in the mountains of southwestern Montana. This system occurs on gentle to moderate-gradient slopes and in relatively moist habitats. Soils are typically seasonally moist to saturated in the spring, but dry out later in the growing season. At montane elevations, soils are usually clays or silt loams with an A horizon greater than 10 centimeters (4 inches), and some occurrences may have inclusions of hydric soils in low, depressional areas. At subalpine elevations, soils are derived a variety of parent materials, and are usually rocky or gravelly with good aeration and drainage, but with a well developed organic layer.
Some occurrences are more heavily dominated by grasses, while others are more dominated by forbs, Tall forb dominated mesic meadows are typically comprised of a wide diversity of genera and contribute more to overall herbaceous cover than graminoids. At montane elevations, important flowering forbs include Siberian chives (Allium schoenoprasum), meadow arnica (Arnica chamissonis), common camas (Camassia quamash), aspen daisy (Erigeron speciosus), aster (Eucephalus and Symphyotrichum species), bluebells (Mertensia species), fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), stickseed (Hackelia species), small flowered penstemon (Penstemon procerus), large leaved avens (Geum macrophyllum), harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), elegant death camas (Zigadenus elegans), western meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale), tall groundsel (Senecio hydrophiloides) and tall ragwort (Senecio serra). Common camas (Camassia quamash) dominates some mesic meadows in western Montana and east of the Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. These meadows were important food gathering sites for indigenous people and were intensively managed for food production.
At subalpine elevations, arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis), subalpine wandering daisy (Erigeron peregrinus), glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum), lovage (Ligusticum species), green false hellebore (Veratrum viride) and valerian (Valeriana species) become a more significant component of the forb layer. Burrowing mammals can increase the forb diversity. Broad leaf deciduous shrubs such as shrubby cinquefoil and snowberry are occasional but not abundant.
Under natural disturbance regimes at montane elevations, early successional stages may be dominated by fireweed, horsemint (Agastache urticifolia), Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and other forbs, and small amounts of mesic grasses such as mountain brome (Bromus carinatus) and tufted hairgrass (Deschamspia cespitosa).
Graminoid-dominated meadows usually feature taxa with relatively broad and soft blades such as tufted hairgrass, mountain brome, showy oniongrass, blue wildrye, awned sedge, slender beaked sedge (Carex athrostachya), small wing sedge, Hood’s sedge (Carex hoodii), Raynold’s sedge (Carex raynoldsonii), and chamisso sedge (Carex pachystachya). Bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) may be present in some occurrences. At subalpine elevations, tufted hairgrass, alpine timothy (Phleum alpinum), poverty oatgrass (Danthonia intermedia) and purple mountain hairgrass (Vahlodea atropurpurea) become more common components of the graminoid layer. In the Beaverhead Mountains, some occurrences contain Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) (Cooper et al, 1997).
National Vegetation Classification Switch to Full NVC View
Adapted from US National Vegetation Classification
A3154 Minuartia obtusiloba - Paronychia pulvinata - Silene acaulis Alpine Fell-field Alliance
A3155 Carex elynoides - Carex rupestris - Kobresia myosuroides Rocky Mountain Alpine Turf Alliance
A3172 Juncus drummondii - Juncus parryi - Sibbaldia procumbens Rocky Mountain Alpine Snowbed Alliance
A3804 Carex aquatilis - Carex utriculata - Deschampsia caespitosa Wet meadow Alliance
CEGL001889 Deschampsia caespitosa / Potentilla diversifolia Wet Meadow
A3809 Heracleum maximum - Veratrum californicum - Rorippa spp. Wet Meadow Alliance
CEGL001940 Heracleum maximum / Rudbeckia occidentalis Wet Meadow
A3948 Valeriana sitchensis - Luzula glabrata var. hitchcockii - Xerophyllum tenax Subalpine Mesic Meadow Alliance
CEGL005856 Chamerion angustifolium Rocky Mountain Meadow
CEGL005859 Xerophyllum tenax Meadow
CEGL005873 Luzula glabrata var. hitchcockii / Erythronium grandiflorum Meadow
*Disclaimer: Alliances and Associations have not yet been finalized in the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) standard.
A complete version of the NVC for Montana can be found here
Communities associated with this ecological system are adapted to soils that may be flooded or saturated in the early growing season. Typically these associations are tolerant of moderate-intensity ground fires and late-season livestock grazing (Kovalchik 1987). Most appear to be relatively stable types, although in some areas these may be impacted by intensive livestock grazing.
Herbaceous mesic meadows that have experienced a disturbance like intensive grazing are often susceptible to invasive non-native vegetation. Typically, disturbed meadows contain Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and common timothy (Phleum pratense) at lower to montane elevations. Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) can replace native forb diversity in areas of continued disturbance. Noxious species such as meadow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum), orange hawkweed (Hieracium auranticum), tall meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), and ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) are highly invasive and pose a real threat to the structure and diversity of these meadows.
In areas of moderate disturbance, this system can be restored by eliminating or limiting grazing for two to three seasons. Areas that contain noxious species must be managed for these species prior to and after restoration practices.
Tufted hairgrass has been successfully established by seeding on higher elevation disturbances such as mined lands. Seeds from locally adapted populations have been most successful (Chambers and others 1990). For disturbances on well-developed soils containing minimum amounts of toxic substances, seeds can be selected from a broad range of relatively well-adapted populations. On sites with limiting soil characteristics, selection from metal and/or acid tolerant populations is more successful (Brown and Chambers 1990). Late fall seeding is most successful; seedling establishment is improved if seeds are exposed to cold dormancy over winter (Chambers and others 1987). Tufted hairgrass has high potential for long term revegetation due to its soil stabilization characteristics, persistence, and ability to reproduce on harsh sites at high elevations (Brown and others 1988; Chambers and others 1990).
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 (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- 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 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- 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 listed as associated with 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 listed as 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.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific 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 assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
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: mtnhp.org/requests
) 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.
- 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. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- 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.
- Native Species Commonly Associated with this Ecological System
- Native Species Occasionally Associated with this Ecological System
Original Concept Authors
Montana Version Authors
- Classification and Map Identifiers
Cowardin Wetland Classification:
|Element Global ID
||CES306.829, Rocky Mountain Subalpine-Montane Mesic Meadow
7118: Rocky Mountain Subalpine-Montane Mesic Meadow
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
- Brown RW, Chambers JC, Wheeler RM. 1988. Adaptations of Deschampsia cespitosa (tufted hairgrass) for revegetation of high elevation disturbances: some selection criteria. High altitude revegetation workshop no. 8: Proceedings; 1988 March 3-4; Fort Collins, CO. Information Series No. 59. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado Water Resources Research Institute; p 147-72.
- Brown RW, Chambers JC. 1990. Reclamation practices in high-mountain ecosystems. In: Schmidt WC, McDonald KJ, editors. Proceedings--symposium on whitebark pine ecosystems: ecology and management of a high-mountain resource; 1989 March 29-31; Bozeman, MT. General Technical Report. INT-270. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forest Service. Intermountain Research Station; p 329-34.
- Chambers JC, MacMahon JA, Brown RW. 1987. Germination characteristics of alpine grasses and forbs: a comparison of early and late seral dominants with reclamation potential. Reclamation and Revegetation Research(6):235-49.
- Chambers, Jeanne C., James A. MacMahon, and Ray W. Brown. 1990. "Alpine Seedling Establishment: The Influence of Disturbance Type". Ecology. 71 (4): 1323-1341.
- Cooper, S.V., C. Jean, and B.L. Heidel. 1999. Plant associations and related botanical inventory of the Beaverhead Mountains Section, Montana. Unpublished report to the Bureau of Land Management. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena. 235 pp.