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Forest mortality in high-elevation whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests of eastern California, USA; influence of environmental context, bark beetles, climatic water deficit, and warming

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Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis Engelm.) in subalpine zones of eastern California experienced significant mortality from 2007 to 2010. Dying stands were dense (mean basal area 47.5 m2/ha), young (mean 176 years), and even-age; mean stand mortality was 70%. Stands were at low elevations (mean 2993 m), on northerly aspects, and experienced warmer, drier climates relative to the regional species distribution. White pine blister rust was not observed; mountain pine beetle infestations were extensive. Ring widths were negatively correlated with climatic water deficit and positively correlated with water-year precipitation. Although trees that survived had greater growth during the 20th century than trees that died, in the 19th century trees that eventually died grew better than trees that survived, suggesting selection for genetic adaptation to current climates as a result of differential tree mortality. Air surveys (2006–2010) in the Sierra Nevada, Mt. Shasta, and Warner Mountains showed similar trends to the intensive studies. Observed mortality from air surveys was highest in the Warner Mountains (38%) and lowest in the Sierra Nevada (5%); northern aspects at lower elevations within each mountain region had the highest probabilities of mortality and dying stands had higher climatic water deficit. Scenarios for the future of whitebark pine in California are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, 800 Buchanan Street, Albany, CA 94710, USA. 2: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, Forest Health Protection, 1731 Research Park Drive, Davis, CA 95618, USA. 3: US Geological Survey, California Water Science Center, Placer Hall, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819, USA.

Publication date: April 14, 2012

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