Blister rust and western forest biodiversity: ecology, values and outlook for white pines
Eight white pine species are widely distributed among the forests of western Canada and the United States. The different forest communities with these species contribute biodiversity to the western landscape. The trees themselves provide various ecosystem services, including wildlife habitat and watershed protection. White pine communities range in elevation from lower to upper treeline, in successional stage from seral to climax, and in stand type from krummholz to closed-canopy forest. Many white pine species are moderately to strongly fire-dependent for regeneration; several species are extreme stress tolerators and persistent on harsh sites. Among the white pines are the oldest-living trees, the world’s largest pines, species dependent on birds for seed dispersal, species important for grizzly bear habitat and species of high commercial timber value. The principal threats to white pine populations are blister rust (Cronartium ribicola, pathogen), fire suppression, succession, mountain pine beetle and climate change. Severe population declines in several white pine species are attributed to losses caused by these factors acting either alone or together, and sometimes in concert with logging and other land-use changes. The importance and particular interactions of these threats vary by region and species. For example, many northern and western populations of whitebark pine are seriously declining from a combination of mountain pine beetle outbreaks and severe blister rust infestations. As whitebark pines provide many keystone services on high-elevation sites, their loss would impact forest composition and structure, succession, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Although there are serious challenges to science-based management and conservation (especially in remote American wilderness areas), prompt and effective intervention promoting regeneration of blister rust-resistant white pines could mitigate these severe impacts.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Ecological Integrity Branch, Parks Canada, Waterton Lakes National Park, Waterton Park, AB, Canada
Publication date: 2010-08-01