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Modeling climate changes and wildfire interactions: effects on whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) and implications for restoration, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

Author(s): Rachel A. Loehman, Allissa Corrow, Robert E. Keane
Year Published: 2011

Climate changes are projected to profoundly influence vegetation patterns and community compositions, either directly through increased species mortality and shifts in species distributions, or indirectly through disturbance dynamics such as increased wildfire activity and extent, shifting fire regimes, and pathogenesis. High-elevation landscapes have been shown to be particularly sensitive to climatic change and are likely to experience significant impacts under predicted future climate change conditions. Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), a keystone and foundation five-needle pine species, is vulnerable to multiple and interacting disturbances that have already caused major changes in species distribution and abundance. We used the mechanistic simulation model FireBGCv2 to assess potential interacting effects of future climate changes and wildfire patterns on the presence and persistence of whitebark pine in a high-elevation watershed in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. We did not include white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetles as disturbance factors in our simulation so that we could isolate climate-fire impacts, and because these disturbance factors have already so severely reduced whitebark pine populations in the area that few live trees remain. Hence, our results presume the establishment of initial populations of live, rust-resistant trees on the MD-GNP landscape through successful restoration efforts. Our results indicate that climate changes may significantly impact whitebark pines in this region through indirect mechanisms including altered distributions of competing tree species and increased fire frequency and fire size. The sensitivity of the species to a complex suite of interacting disturbance agents suggests that conservation efforts must address and mitigate these multiple threats through a suite of restoration treatments including planting of rust-resistant stock, fuels treatments, and prescribed burning to restore whitebark pine to its current range. In addition, additional simulation modeling experiments should be developed to identify areas suitable for restoration under potential future climate regimes and test efficacy of restoration strategies under these new climate conditions.

Citation: Loehman, Rachel A.; Corrow, Allissa; Keane, Robert E. 2011. Modeling climate changes and wildfire interactions: effects on whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) and implications for restoration, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. In: Keane, Robert E.; Tomback, Diana F.; Murray, Michael P.; and Smith, Cyndi M., eds. 2011. The future of high-elevation, five-needle white pines in western North America: Proceedings of the High Five Symposium; 2010 June 28-30; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-63. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 176-189.
Topic(s): Fire & Climate
Ecosystem(s): Alpine forest/krummholz, Subalpine wet spruce-fir forest, Subalpine dry spruce-fir forest
Document Type: Conference Proceedings
NRFSN number: 11897
FRAMES RCS number: 13779
Record updated: Oct 3, 2019