Drought-driven disturbance history characterizes a southern Rocky Mountain subalpine forest

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Abstract:

The view that subalpine forest vegetation dynamics in western North America are “driven” by a particular disturbance type (i.e., fire) has shaped our understanding of their disturbance regimes. In the wake of a recent (1990s) landscape-extent spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis Kirby) outbreak in the southern Rocky Mountains, we re-examined the temporal continuity in disturbance types and interactions and the possible role of drought on their occurrence by reconstructing antecedent disturbances for 11 sites across the Markagunt Plateau, southern Utah, USA. Multiple consistent lines of evidence suggested that historic fires were the primary antecedent disturbance, while relatively minor, stand-specific spruce beetle activity occurred later in stand development but prior to the recent outbreak. Unlike the recent outbreak, antecedent fires were spatially and temporally asynchronous over the period examined (~1600–2000). Reconstructed fire events primarily occurred during periods of prolonged drought. Similarly, historic spruce beetle activity, indicated by species-specific tree-ring release, and timing of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry ex Engelm.) death dates from the recent outbreak were related to drought conditions. Vegetation dynamics on this landscape were strongly driven by historic fires and the recent spruce beetle outbreak, and drought conditions likely influenced the occurrence of both disturbance types.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/x2012-102

Publication date: September 22, 2012

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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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