Cluster analysis of 245 vegetation plots, along 17 transects on alpine composite debris cones in the Italian Alps, allowed us to classify complex mosaics of landforms and plant communities. A variety of active and past geomorphic processes (mass wasting, avalanche activity, and running water) were responsible for the construction of the debris cones. By assessing plant community distribution in the context of the different landform units and geomorphic processes, represented in detailed geomorphological maps, a sequence of landform–vegetation units was identified. This approach contributes to the assessment of environmental hazards on the cones, and may also be applied in other environmental contexts. Plant community distribution and development inValle dell'Avio reflects the frequency and intensity of the processes that built composite alpine debris cones, creating environmental gradients and/or generating new habitats. Therefore this patchy landscape allows the preservation of local biodiversity, with typical plant communities adapted to particular niches.
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