skip to main content

Title: Bayesian Analyses of 17 Winters of Water Vapor Fluxes Show Bark Beetles Reduce Sublimation

Sublimation is an important hydrological flux in cold, snow‐dominated ecosystems. In high‐elevation spruce‐fir forests of western North America, spruce beetle outbreaks have killed trees, reduced the canopy, and altered processes that control sublimation. We evaluated two hypotheses related to effects of disturbance on sublimation in this ecosystem: (1) the dominant source for sublimation is canopy intercepted snow and (2) the loss of canopy following a beetle disturbance leads to less total sublimation. To incorporate uncertainty hierarchically across multiple data sources and address phenomenological parsimony, Bayesian statistics were used to analyze 17 years (2000–2016) of winter eddy covariance flux data at the Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiments Sites AmeriFlux sites where a spruce beetle outbreak caused 75–85% basal area mortality. Our analysis revealed that resistances to sublimate snow from the canopy were an order of magnitude less than from the snowpack, and the maximum snow loading capacity in disturbed canopies was reduced to 34% of its pre‐outbreak value. Total sublimation has decreased since 2010, 2 years after the main outbreak, declining 24% (with a 95% credible interval, C.I., between 18% and 38%) during 2014–2016 due to a 32% decrease in canopy sublimation. Snowpack sublimation only increased 3% over this period. With less total sublimation, the forest retained 6.1% (4.5–12.3% C.I.) more snowpack mass or equivalently 4.4% (3.2–8.8 C.I.) of the annual precipitation. Considering tree growth and ecological succession are slow in spruce‐fir forests, this decrease in sublimation should persist as an increased snowpack for decades, with substantial impacts on catchment hydrologic processes and potentially streamflow.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Water Resources Research
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1598-1623
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    The spatial overlap of multiple ecological disturbances in close succession has the capacity to alter trajectories of ecosystem recovery. Widespread bark beetle outbreaks and wildfire have affected many forests in western North America in the past two decades in areas of important habitat for native ungulates. Bark beetle outbreaks prior to fire may deplete seed supply of the host species, and differences in fire‐related regeneration strategies among species may shift the species composition and structure of the initial forest trajectory. Subsequent browsing of postfire tree regeneration by large ungulates, such as elk (Cervus canadensis), may limit the capacity for regeneration to grow above the browse zone to form the next forest canopy. Five stand‐replacing wildfires burned ~60,000 ha of subalpine forest that had previously been affected by severe (>90% mortality) outbreaks of spruce beetle (SB,Dendroctonus rufipennis) in Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) in 2012–2013 in southwestern Colorado. Here we examine the drivers of variability in abundance of newly established conifer tree seedlings [spruce and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa)] and resprouts of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) following the short‐interval sequence of SB outbreaks and wildfire (2–8 yr between SB outbreak and fire) at sites where we previously reconstructed severities of SB and fire. We then examine the implications of ungulate browsing for forest recovery. We found that abundances of postfire spruce seedling establishment decreased substantially in areas of severe SB outbreak. Prolific aspen resprouting in stands with live aspen prior to fire will favor an initial postfire forest trajectory dominated by aspen. However, preferential browsing of postfire aspen resprouts by ungulates will likely slow the rate of canopy recovery but browsing is unlikely to alter the species composition of the future forest canopy. Collectively, our results show that SB outbreak prior to fire increases the vulnerability of spruce–fir forests to shifts in forest type (conifer to aspen) and physiognomic community type (conifer forest to non‐forest). By identifying where compounded disturbance interactions are likely to limit recovery of forests or tree species, our findings are useful for developing adaptive management strategies in the context of warming climate and shifting disturbance regimes.

    more » « less
  2. 1. Amplified by warming temperatures and drought, recent outbreaks of native bark beetles (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) have caused extensive tree mortality throughout Europe and North America. Despite their ubiquitous nature and important effects on ecosystems, forest recovery following such disturbances is poorly understood, particularly across regions with varying abiotic conditions and outbreak effects. 2. To better understand post-outbreak recovery across a topographically complex region, we synthesized data from 16 field studies spanning subalpine forests in the Southern Rocky Mountains, USA. From 1997 to 2019, these forests were heavily affected by outbreaks of three native bark beetle species (Dendroctonus ponderosae, Dendroctonus rufipennis and Dryocoetes confusus). We compared pre- and post-outbreak forest conditions and developed region-wide predictive maps of post-outbreak (1) live basal areas, (2) juvenile densities and (3) height growth rates for the most abundant tree species – aspen (Populus tremuloides), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). 3. Beetle-caused tree mortality reduced the average diameter of live trees by 28.4% (5.6 cm), and species dominance was altered on 27.8% of field plots with shifts away from pine and spruce. However, most plots (82.1%) were likely to recover towards pre-outbreak tree densities without additional regeneration. Region-wide maps indicated that fir and aspen, non-host species for bark beetle species with the most severe effects (i.e. Dendroctonus spp.), will benefit from outbreaks through increased compositional dominance. After accounting for individual size, height growth for all conifer species was more rapid in sites with low winter precipitation, high winter temperatures and severe outbreaks. 4. Synthesis. In subalpine forests of the US Rocky Mountains, recent bark beetle outbreaks have reduced tree size and altered species composition. While eventual recovery of the pre-outbreak forest structure is likely in most places, changes in species composition may persist for decades. Still, forest communities following bark beetle outbreaks are widely variable due to differences in pre-outbreak conditions, outbreak severity and abiotic gradients. This regional variability has critical implications for ecosystem services and susceptibility to future disturbances. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Bark beetles have impacted over 58 million acres of coniferous forest in the Western US since 2000. Most beetle impacted forests are in snow dominated, water limited headwater basins, which generate a disproportionate fraction of water supplies. Previous studies show mixed impacts of bark beetle outbreaks on streamflow with the potential to cause increased or decreased flows, but these studies either predate long‐term snowpack data, are model‐based, or examine only mountain pine beetle outbreaks. Ours is the first study to use an empirical, climate‐normalized paired catchment approach to quantify streamflow response to spruce beetle kill. Using 27 years of climate and streamflow observations from southwest Colorado, we show that in three of the six beetle impacted study basins, annual climate‐normalized streamflow increased by 22%–37% for at least three to 6 years after the beetle outbreak. Impacted basins exhibited no decreased flows and flows in unimpacted control basins remained unchanged. Among impacted basins, no single basin characteristic clearly explained variation of streamflow response. Higher runoff ratios during snowmelt contribute anywhere from 9% to 64% of streamflow increases, implying the importance of both snow and growing season processes in driving streamflow increases. These findings show variable, sometimes substantial streamflow increases in critical water supply basins following beetle kill in subalpine spruce forests, and contrast with evidence of unchanged or decreased streamflow following beetle kill in lower elevation pine forests in colder northern Colorado basins, highlighting the importance of climate and forest composition in refining hydrologic predictions following mountain forest disturbances.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Understanding potential limitations to tree regeneration is essential as rates of tree mortality increase in response to direct (extreme drought) and indirect (bark beetle outbreaks, wildfire) effects of a warming climate. Seed availability is increasingly recognized as an important limitation for tree regeneration. High variability in seed cone production is a trait common among many northern temperate conifers, but few studies examine the determinants of individual tree cone production and how they vary with stand structure. In subalpine forests in the southern Rocky Mountains, USA, we monitored >1600Picea engelmannii(Engelmann spruce) andAbies lasiocarpa(subalpine fir) trees for cone presence (an indicator of reproductive maturity) and a subset of those trees for cone abundance (an indicator of seed production) from 2016 to 2018. We constructed mixed models to test how individual tree cone presence and cone abundance were affected by tree size and age as well as forest attributes at the neighborhood‐ and stand‐scales. The probability of cone presence and cone abundance increased with tree size and age forA. lasiocarpaandP. engelmannii. The youngest ages of trees with cones present were more than 100 yr later for individuals in high basal area (BA) stands (>65 m2/ha) relative to low BA stands (<25 m2/ha).P. engelmanniiproduced many more cones thanA. lasiocarpaat similar sizes, especially in young, low BA stands. Our findings reveal how differences in tree sizes and stand structures typically associated with time since last disturbance can affect seed production patterns for decades to well over a century. The consistent regional pattern of earlier and more abundant postfire establishment ofP. engelmannniivs. the delayed postfire establishment byA. lasiocarpamay be partially explained by species’ differences in cone abundance by stand structure. The increasing loss of large, dominant cone‐producing trees will significantly reduce seed production to support future tree regeneration and maintain forest cover. However, seed availability and resilience following disturbances may be less limiting than expected for species likeP. engelmanniithat have the capacity to produce more cones in open‐canopy forests, such as recently disturbed areas.

    more » « less
  5. Climate models for the northeastern United States (U.S.) over the next century predict an increase in air temperature between 2.8 and 4.3 °C and a decrease in the average number of days per year when a snowpack will cover the forest floor (Hayhoe et al. 2007, 2008; Campbell et al. 2010). Studies of forest dynamics in seasonally snow-covered ecosystems have been primarily conducted during the growing season, when most biological activity occurs. However, in recent years considerable progress has been made in our understanding of how winter climate change influences dynamics in these forests. The snowpack insulates soil from below-freezing air temperatures, which facilitates a significant amount of microbial activity. However, a smaller snowpack and increased depth and duration of soil frost amplify losses of dissolved organic C and NO3- in leachate, as well as N2O released into the atmosphere. The increase in nutrient loss following increased soil frost cannot be explained by changes in microbial activity alone. More likely, it is caused by a decrease in plant nutrient uptake following increases in soil frost. We conducted a snow-removal experiment at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest to determine the effects of a smaller winter snowpack and greater depth and duration of soil frost on trees, soil microbes, and arthropods. A number of publications have been based on these data: Comerford et al. 2013, Reinmann et al. 2019, Templer 2012, and Templer et al. 2012. These data were gathered as part of the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study (HBES). The HBES is a collaborative effort at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, which is operated and maintained by the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station. Campbell JL, Ollinger SV, Flerchinger GN, Wicklein H, Hayhoe K, Bailey AS. Past and projected future changes in snowpack and soil frost at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, USA. Hydrological Processes. 2010; 24:2465–2480. Comerford DP, PG Schaberg, PH Templer, AM Socci, JL Campbell, and KF Wallin. 2013. Influence of experimental snow removal on root and canopy physiology of sugar maple trees in a northern hardwood forest. Oecologia 171:261-269. Hayhoe K, Wake CP, Huntington TG, Luo LF, Schwartz MD, Sheffield J, et al. Past and future changes in climate and hydrological indicators in the US Northeast. Climate Dynamics. 2007; 28:381–407. Hayhoe, K., Wake, C., Anderson, B. et al. Regional climate change projections for the Northeast USA. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 13, 425–436 (2008). Reinmann AB, J Susser, EMC Demaria, PH Templer. 2019. Declines in northern forest tree growth following snowpack decline and soil freezing.  Global Change Biology 25:420-430. Templer PH. 2012. Changes in winter climate: soil frost, root injury, and fungal communities (Invited). Plant and Soil 35: 15-17 Templer PH , AF Schiller, NW Fuller, AM Socci, JL Campbell, JE Drake, and TH Kunz. 2012. Impact of a reduced winter snowpack on litter arthropod abundance and diversity in a northern hardwood forest ecosystem. Biology and Fertility of Soils 48:413-424. 
    more » « less