Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland
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Provisional State Rank
(see reason below)
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.
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.
Montane, lowland, shrubland, broad leaf deciduous shrub, very shallow soil, moderate persistence
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 1,340 square kilometers are classified as Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland 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, 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
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.
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).
National Vegetation Classification
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US National Vegetation Classification
A3773 Cornus sericea - Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda - Ribes spp. Wet Shrubland Alliance CEGL001126 Rosa woodsii Wet Shrubland A3799 Rhus trilobata - Crataegus rivularis - Forestiera pubescens Shrubland Alliance CEGL001108 Prunus virginiana / (Prunus americana) Wet Shrubland A3835 Salix hookeriana - Salix sitchensis - Spiraea douglasii Wet Shrubland Alliance CEGL001129 Spiraea douglasii Wet Shrubland A3963 Amelanchier alnifolia Central Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Shrubland Alliance CEGL005885 Amelanchier alnifolia - (Mixed Grass, Forb) Shrubland A3964 Rhus glabra - Rhus trilobata Central Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Shrubland Alliance A3968 Abies lasiocarpa - Populus tremuloides / Acer glabrum Central Rocky Mountain Avalanche Chute Shrubland Alliance CEGL005889 Ribes lacustre - Chamerion angustifolium Shrubland A3970 Menziesia ferruginea - Spiraea betulifolia Montane-Subalpine Shrubland Alliance CEGL005835 Spiraea betulifolia Shrubland A3975 Physocarpus malvaceus - Symphoricarpos albus Mesic Shrubland Alliance CEGL005890 Symphoricarpos albus Shrubland
*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
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.
In the absence of natural fire, periodic prescribed burns can be used to maintain this system.
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 (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,
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:
) 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:
Not applicable NatureServe Identifiers:
Element Global ID
CES306.994, Northern Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland
5312: Northern Rocky Mountain Montane-Foothill Deciduous Shrubland