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Forest developmental trajectories in mountain pine beetle disturbed forests of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

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A mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) epidemic has caused widespread mortality of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud. var. latifolia Engelm.) trees across western North America,. We characterized the initial effects of beetle-induced mortality on forest structure and composition in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. In 2008, we surveyed stand structure and tree species composition across lodgepole pine dominated forests in the western portion of the Park. We defined five lodgepole pine forest types to describe variability in pre-epidemic forest conditions. This forested landscape appears to be resilient to the effects of the beetle. Surviving trees, including both canopy trees and saplings, were plentiful in most of the post-epidemic forests, even after accounting for anticipated future mortality. Subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa (Hook.) Nutt.), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry ex Engelm.), and aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) had modestly higher relative abundances after the epidemic. Lodgepole pine remained the dominant species on approximately 85% of the landscape. The impact of the outbreak on forest structure and composition varied considerably among the five forest types, suggesting that post-epidemic forest developmental trajectories will vary according to pre-outbreak stand characteristics. Active management efforts to regenerate lodgepole pine forests, e.g., tree planting, will likely not be necessary on this landscape.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA. 2: Department of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship and Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.

Publication date: April 8, 2011

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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