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Understanding and Defining Mortality in Western Conifer Forests

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Tree mortality in western conifer forests is a complex process involving several related factors. Conifer mortality tends to be more common in high-elevation forests where stress from weather, insects, and disease result in higher rates of mortality and in the drier interior forests where mortality from fire, insects, and disease are common. Immediate mortality from fire damage may be obvious, but currently there is considerable controversy about labeling fire-injured green trees as dead that have a high probability of experiencing delayed mortality. Trees die when carbohydrates used in respiration exceed those produced in photosynthesis or water movement is impaired, the tree desiccates, and photosynthesis ceases. Immediate or delayed tree mortality may be directly due to biotic or abiotic causes and may be affected by previous damage, current condition (vigor), and attack by secondary agents such as bark beetles. A particular pathogen or insect usually attacks, damages, or kills only one portion of a tree. Trees that are damaged or attacked by pests and expected to have a dead or nonfunctional root system or a nonfunctional stem within 5 years may be considered either dead or death is imminent. Numerous studies have produced logistic regression equations or other statistical models to help determine probability of tree survival. We define and propose that a “dead tree” designation is justified for most species when at least three of the four quadrants from around the base of the root collar has cambium, inner bark, or phloem that are discolored and dead. For large ponderosa pines, a dead tree has all four quadrants with dead cambium.

Keywords: bark beetles; cambial death; delayed mortality; mortality models; root disease; tree death; tree physiology; wildfire damage

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-04-01

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  • Each regional journal of applied forestry focuses on research, practice, and techniques targeted to foresters and allied professionals in specific regions of the United States and Canada. The Western Journal of Applied Forestry covers the western United States, including Alaska, and western Canada; WJAF will also consider manuscripts reporting research in northern Mexico that has potential application in the southwestern United States.
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