Research NewsEcology

Animals Thrive in an Avalanche's Wake

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Science  20 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5358, pp. 1853
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5358.1853

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In a series of recent and ongoing studies, biologists are finding that avalanches can have a positive side: The stubbled terrains they create provide key habitat for everything from deer to grizzly bears to wolverines. Slides boost plant diversity, researchers say, because they first clear the land, gouging out permanent open chutes up to a kilometer long and 100 meters wide through terrain that would otherwise be densely covered by conifers. Plants and shrubs that can't grow under shady conifers spring up in these sunny chutes, providing important nutrition for large mammals as well as a variety of birds.