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Recent mountain pine beetle outbreaks, wildfire severity, and postfire tree regeneration in the US northern Rockies

Author(s): Brian J. Harvey, Daniel C. Donato, Monica G. Turner
Year Published: 2014
Description:

Widespread tree mortality caused by outbreaks of native bark beetles (Circulionidae: Scolytinae) in recent decades has raised concern among scientists and forest managers about whether beetle outbreaks fuel more ecologically severe forest fires and impair postfire resilience. To investigate this question, we collected extensive field data following multiple fires that burned subalpine forests in 2011 throughout the Northern Rocky Mountains across a spectrum of prefire beetle outbreak severity, primarily from mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae). We found that recent (2001-2010) beetle outbreak severity was unrelated to most field measures of subsequent fire severity, which was instead driven primarily by extreme burning conditions (weather) and topography. In the red stage (0-2 y following beetle outbreak), fire severity was largely unaffected by prefire outbreak severity with few effects detected only under extreme burning conditions. In the gray stage (3-10 y following beetle outbreak), fire severity was largely unaffected by prefire outbreak severity under moderate conditions, but several measures related to surface fire severity increased with outbreak severity under extreme conditions. Initial postfire tree regeneration of the primary beetle host tree [lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia)] was not directly affected by prefire outbreak severity but was instead driven by the presence of a canopy seedbank and by fire severity. Recent beetle outbreaks in subalpine forests affected few measures of wildfire severity and did not hinder the ability of lodgepole pine forests to regenerate after fire, suggesting that resilience in subalpine forests is not necessarily impaired by recent mountain pine beetle outbreaks.

Citation: Harvey, Brian J.; Donato, Daniel C.; Turner, Monica G. 2014. Recent mountain pine beetle outbreaks, wildfire severity, and postfire tree regeneration in the US northern Rockies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(42):15120-15125.
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Insects & Disease, Fire & Bark Beetles, Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation, Fire Regime, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity, Fire & Wildlife, Invertebrates, Mountain pine beetles, Recovery after fire, Resilience
Ecosystem(s): Subalpine wet spruce-fir forest, Subalpine dry spruce-fir forest
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 13007
FRAMES RCS number: 18310
Record updated: Sep 4, 2019