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  1. Over the past several decades, forests worldwide have experienced increases in biotic disturbances caused by insects and plant pathogens – a trend that is expected to continue with climate warming. Whereas the causes and effects of individual biotic disturbances are well studied, spatiotemporal interactions among multiple biotic disturbances are less so, despite their importance to ecosystem function and resilience. Here, we highlight an emerging phenomenon of “hotspots” of biotic disturbances (that is, two or more biotic disturbances that overlap in space and time), documenting trends in recent decades in temperate conifer forests of the western US. We also explore potential mechanisms behind and effects of biotic disturbance hotspots, with particular focus on how altered post‐disturbance recovery (successional pathways) can have profound consequences for ecosystem resilience and biodiversity conservation. Finally, we propose research directions that can elucidate drivers of biotic disturbance hotspots and their ecological effects at various spatial scales, and provide insight into this new knowledge frontier.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. Abstract Background

    Trends of increasing area burned in many regions worldwide are leading to more locations experiencing short-interval reburns (i.e., fires occurring two or more times in the same place within 1–3 decades). Field and satellite indices of burn severity are well tested in forests experiencing a single recent fire, but the reliability of these indices in short-interval reburns is poorly understood. We tested how a commonly used field index (the Composite Burn Index, CBI) and satellite index (the Relative differenced Normalized Burn Ratio, RdNBR) compared to eight individual field measures of burn severity in short-interval reburns vs. areas burned in one recent fire, and whether results depended on whether the first fire was stand replacing (fire that is lethal to most dominant trees).


    Correspondence between both CBI and RdNBR with individual burn severity measures differed in short-interval reburns compared to single fires for some metrics of burn severity. Divergence in the relationship between both CBI and RdNBR vs. field measures was greatest when short-interval reburns followed a prior stand-replacing fire, and measures were more comparable to single fires when the first fire was non-stand replacing (i.e., lower severity). When short-interval reburns followed prior stand-replacing fires, CBI and RdNBR underestimated burn severity in the second fire for tree-canopy metrics (e.g., canopy cover loss, tree mortality), as young forests in early developmental stages are more sensitive to a second fire. Conversely, when short-interval reburns followed prior less-than-stand-replacing fires, both CBI and RdNBR overestimated burn severity for forest-floor metrics, as past low severity fires leave behind live fire-resistant trees and can stimulate resprouting understory vegetation. Finally, neither CBI nor RdNBR accurately detected deep wood charring—an important phenomenon that occurs in short-interval reburns.


    Our findings inform interpretability of commonly used indices of burn severity in short-interval reburns by identifying how individual burn severity metrics can be under- or over-estimated, depending on the severity of the fire preceding a reburn. Adjustments to burn severity measurements made in short-interval reburns are particularly critical as reburned areas increase.

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  3. Context: Growth releases of individuals that survive disturbances are important compensatory response mechanisms that contribute to ecological resilience. However, the role of fine-scale spatial heterogeneity in shaping compensatory growth responses is poorly understood for many broad-scale disturbances. Objectives: We quantified how fine-scale spatial structure affects individual and aggregate tree growthleading up to and following a severe mountain pine beetle (MPB; Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreak. We asked: (1) How does individual tree growth vary with tree- and neighborhood-scale characteristics? (2) How do within-stand aggregate growth and overstory recruitment vary with neighborhood-scale characteristics? Methods: We used a spatially explicit long-term monitoring dataset of a subalpine lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) forest (in Colorado, USA) in which every tree ≥ 5 cm diameter was measured and mapped prior to (1989, 2004) and following (2018) a severe MPB outbreak (2003–2011). We used spatial regression to characterize drivers of growth. Results: Overall, we found strong evidence for post-outbreak compensatory responses across spatial scales. Neighborhood characteristics shaped both individual and aggregate growth, with the magnitude of growth strongly mediated by pre-outbreak neighborhood structure and neighborhood mortality. Variation in tree-scale growth, combined with the spatial arrangement of surviving trees, resulted in highly variable emergent patterns of aggregate growth and recruitment. Conclusion: Our findings highlight the importance of fine-scale landscape configuration in shaping forest resilience. Quantifying compensatory responses in a spatially explicit framework at different scales is critical for modeling post-disturbance forest dynamics, which is increasingly important as climate warms and forest disturbance regimes change. 
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  4. Abstract

    Escalating burned area in western US forests punctuated by the 2020 fire season has heightened the need to explore near-term macroscale forest-fire area trajectories. As fires remove fuels for subsequent fires, feedbacks may impose constraints on the otherwise climate-driven trend of increasing forest-fire area. Here, we test how fire-fuel feedbacks moderate near-term (2021–2050) climate-driven increases in forest-fire area across the western US. Assuming constant fuels, climate–fire models project a doubling of  forest-fire area compared to 1991–2020. Fire-fuel feedbacks only modestly attenuate the projected increase in forest-fire area. Even models with strong feedbacks project increasing interannual variability in forest-fire area and more than a two-fold increase in the likelihood of years exceeding the 2020 fire season. Fuel limitations from fire-fuel feedbacks are unlikely to strongly constrain the profound climate-driven broad-scale increases in forest-fire area by the mid-21st century, highlighting the need for proactive adaptation to increased western US forest-fire impacts.

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  5. 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. 
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    Since the late 1990s, extensive outbreaks of native bark beetles (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) have affected coniferous forests throughout Europe and North America, driving changes in carbon storage, wildlife habitat, nutrient cycling, and water resource provisioning. Remote sensing is a crucial tool for quantifying the effects of these disturbances across broad landscapes. In particular, Landsat time series (LTS) are increasingly used to characterize outbreak dynamics, including the presence and severity of bark beetle-caused tree mortality, though broad-scale LTS-based maps are rarely informed by detailed field validation. Here we used spatial and temporal information from LTS products, in combination with extensive field data and Random Forest (RF) models, to develop 30-m maps of the presence (i.e., any occurrence) and severity (i.e., cumulative percent basal area mortality) of beetle-caused tree mortality 1997–2019 in subalpine forests throughout the Southern Rocky Mountains, USA. Using resultant maps, we also quantified spatial patterns of cumulative tree mortality throughout the region, an important yet poorly understood concept in beetle-affected forests. RF models using LTS products to predict presence and severity performed well, with 80.3% correctly classified (Kappa = 0.61) and R2 = 0.68 (RMSE = 17.3), respectively. We found that ≥10,256 km2 of subalpine forest area (39.5% of the study area) was affected by bark beetles and 19.3% of the study area experienced ≥70% tree mortality over the twenty-three year period. Variograms indicated that severity was autocorrelated at scales < 250 km. Interestingly, cumulative patch-size distributions showed that areas with a near-total loss of the overstory canopy (i.e., ≥90% mortality) were relatively small (<0.24 km2) and isolated throughout the study area. Our findings help to inform an understanding of the variable effects of bark beetle outbreaks across complex forested regions and provide insight into patterns of disturbance legacies, landscape connectivity, and susceptibility to future disturbance. 
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