Rocky Mountain National Park Montane Ecosystem

The Montane Ecosystem occurs at elevations between approximately 5,600 and 9,500 feet. Dry, south-facing slopes of the Montane often have open stands of large ponderosa pines. Spacing of ponderosa pines is somewhat related to available soil moisture. Grasses, other herbs and shrubs may grow between the widely spaced trees on dry slopes. As the pines become old, their bark changes from gray-brown to cinnamon-red, and the bark releases a pleasant fragrance when warmed by the sun. The long needles of ponderosa pines are attached to the stems in groups of two's and three's.

North-facing slopes of the Montane escape some of the sun's drying action, so their soils contain more available water. As a result, the trees grow closer together and competition for sunlight produces a tall, slender growth form. The trees may be a mixture of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and an occasional Engelmann spruce. A few shade-tolerant plants grow on the floor of the forest.

Montane soils with high moisture content may support groves of quaking aspen, whose leaves turn golden-yellow in the autumn and whose whitish bark is easy to recognize. Along streams or the shores of lakes, other water-loving small trees may be found. These include various willows, mountain alder, and water birch with dark-colored bark. In a few places, blue spruce may grow near streams and sometimes hybridize with Engelmann spruce. Flat Montane valleys may frequently have water-logged soil and be unable to support growth of evergreen forests.

Plants and Animals of the Montane Ecosystem


Ponderosa Pine Douglas Fir Quaking Aspen Lodgepole Pine


Antelope Bitterbrush Wax Currant Kinnikinnick Big Sage Common Juniper Rocky Mountain Juniper Holly Grape

Herbaceous Plants:

Mountain Ball Cactus Needle and Thread Grass Daisy Locoweed Geranium Whiskbroom Parsley Blue Grama Pasque Flower Gumweed Penstemon June Grass Sedge Mariposa Lily Spike Fescue Miner's Candle Sulphur Flower Dwarf Mistletoe Wallflower Mountain Muhly Blue Columbine

Reptiles: Western Garter Snake


Mountain Bluebird Solitary Vireo Western Bluebird Black-Billed Magpie Mountain Chickadee Common Nighthawk Red Crossbill Pygmy Nuthatch American Crow Great Horned Owl Golden Eagle Raven Cassin's Finch American Robin Northern Flicker Pine Siskin Northern Goshawk Townsend's Solitaire Steller's Jay Yellow-Rump Warbler Tree Swallow Woodpecker (Downy and Hairy) Western Tanager Western Wood Pee Wee House Wren


Badger Yellow-Bellied Marmot Black Bear Deer Mouse Bobcat Porcupine Chipmunk Bighorn Sheep Nuttall's Cottontail Montane Shrew Coyote Golden Mantle Ground Squirrel Mule Deer Abert's Squirrel Elk Meadow Vole Skunk Weasel (long-tailed) Mountain Lion Bushy Tailed Wood Rat Otter Moose

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