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Rocky Mountain Aspen Forest and Woodland

This widespread ecological system is more common in the southern and central Rocky Mountains but occurs in the montane and subalpine zones throughout much of the western U.S. and north into Canada. An eastern extension occurs along the Rocky Mountains foothill front and in mountain "islands" in Montana (Big Snowy and Highwood mountains), and the Black Hills of South Dakota. In California, this system is only found on the east side of the Sierra Nevada adjacent to the Great Basin. Large stands are found in the Inyo and White mountains, while small stands occur on the Modoc Plateau. In western Alberta, it occurs only in the Upper Foothills subregion, and north of there transitions to Western North American Boreal Mesic Birch-Aspen Forest (CES105.108). Elevations generally range from 1525 to 3050 m (5000-10,000 feet), but occurrences can be found at lower elevations in some regions, especially in the Canadian Rockies. Distribution of this ecological system is primarily limited by adequate soil moisture required to meet its high evapotranspiration demand. Secondarily, it is limited by the length of the growing season or low temperatures. These are upland forests and woodlands dominated by Populus tremuloides without a significant conifer component (<25% relative tree cover). The understory structure may be complex with multiple shrub and herbaceous layers, or simple with just an herbaceous layer. The herbaceous layer may be dense or sparse, dominated by graminoids or forbs. In California, Symphyotrichum spathulatum (= Aster occidentalis) is a common forb. Associated shrub species include Symphoricarpos spp., Rubus parviflorus, Amelanchier alnifolia, and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. Occurrences of this system originate and are maintained by stand-replacing disturbances such as avalanches, crown fire, insect outbreak, disease and windthrow, or clearcutting by man or beaver, within the matrix of conifer forests. It differs from Northwestern Great Plains Aspen Forest and Parkland (CES303.681), which is limited to plains environments.

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