EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Quantification of biogeomorphic interactions between small-scale sediment transport and primary succession in the Gepatschferner glacier foreland, Austria

Stefan Haselberger1, Lisa Maria Ohler2, Robert R. Junker2, Jan-Christoph Otto3, and Sabine Kraushaar1
Stefan Haselberger et al.
  • 1University of Vienna, Geography and Regional Research, Vienna, Austria (
  • 2Philipps-University Marburg, Department of Biology, Marburg, Germany
  • 3University of Salzburg, Department of Geography and Geology, Salzburg, Austria

Landscape change is an interplay of abiotic and biotic processes with bi-directional and interwoven relationships. Glacier foreland areas can act as open-air laboratory to observe biogeomorphic interactions. Paraglacial adjustment establishes initial conditions for ecological succession and requires constant feedbacks between plants and landscapes. Frequency and magnitude of geomorphic processes and functional composition and abundance of plants govern these responses. Up to now, biogeomorphic studies have mainly focused on the qualitative description of the relationship between biotic and abiotic processes. However, in order to test biogeomorphic concepts, it is necessary to jointly quantify (i) geomorphic process rates as a function of vegetation and (ii) successional development as a function of geomorphic conditions.

The proglacial area of the Gepatschferner (Kaunertal) in the crystalline Central Eastern Alps presents a showcase environment to investigate these interactions as the retreating glacier and highly active slope processes provide the ground for different stages of ecological succession and promotes high rates of sediment reworking within the proglacial deposits.

In this particular study, we investigate small-scale biogeomorphic interactions at 30 test sites of 2*3m size. Experimental plots are established on slopes along an ecological succession gradient that reflect different stages of erosion-vegetation interaction. To cover the abiotic condition for the plot sites morphometric characteristics and edaphic variables were determined. In order to quantify abiotic process rates, we use mechanical measurements (i.e. erosion plots) to determine sediment yield and to measure the effect of vegetation on particle size distribution. Relative Dating, historical image analysis and knowledge of glacial retreat helped to estimate time since last perturbation. A detailed vegetation survey was carried out to capture biotic conditions at the sites. Species distribution and abundance at each site, as well as plant functional types provide information on successional stage and functional diversity.

This data set provides a vital opportunity to test conceptual models on biogeomorphic succession in glacier forelands and to evaluate the bi-directional influence of primary succession on small-scale sediment transport and vice versa.

How to cite: Haselberger, S., Ohler, L. M., Junker, R. R., Otto, J.-C., and Kraushaar, S.: Quantification of biogeomorphic interactions between small-scale sediment transport and primary succession in the Gepatschferner glacier foreland, Austria, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-17857,, 2020.