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Banff National Park

Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park

The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are on my mind as I prepare for a near-annual trip to the region for autumn colours. While this photo won't win any awards for visual drama, do note the golden colours of the deciduous trees and shrubs at the base of the avalanche chutes (particularly evident in the larger version of the photograph). Looking akin to a flow of golden lava at this time of year, these are plant communities of frequent ecological disturbance from the physical effects of avalanches.

Avalanche ecology is a relatively new field of study (if the dates on cited papers are a good indication). Seemingly, the suppression of avalanches is somewhat like the suppression of fire in changing ecosystem dynamics (see the results of a study in the Swiss Alps: Kulakowski, D. et al. 2005. Changes in forest structure and in the relative importance of climatic stress as a result of suppression of avalanche disturbances (PDF). Forest Ecology and Management. 223:66-74). Fortunately for the biodiversity of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, I don't believe avalanches are suppressed (or, if at all, in only a few areas). For a broad overview of the importance of avalanches, see this video on the benefits of avalanches from the USFS National Avalanche Center, or, to learn about the importance for grizzly bears specifically, read grizzly bear use of avalanche chutes in the Columbia Mountains.

5 Comments

Always nice to see photos of my backyard.

Thanks for this mini-lecture on forest ecology. I never thought about the value of the avalanche. We similarly value our native prairie fires as Nature's restoration tool. Beautiful autumn photo, too.
Sue Gray, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension,Tulsa, OK

Thanks Daniel, as always another lesson learned. Have a great time.

The outlines on the face of the mountains reminds me of the Easter Island figures. Beautiful photo, beautiful country.

This is really interesting - thank you so much for the extra information about avalanche ecology! And what a great photographic illustration of the concept.

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