Neighborhood context mediates probability of host tree mortality in a severe bark beetle outbreak


Understanding drivers of disturbances across scales is critical as environmental constraints change in a warming climate. Outbreaks of native bark beetles (Curculionidae: Scolytinae) are key natural disturbances that shape the structure and function of conifer forests across the northern hemisphere. While drivers of bark beetle outbreaks have been studied extensively at spatial scales ranging from stands to continents, within‐stand processes governing individual tree mortality in an outbreak are less well understood. Here, we use a spatially explicit long‐term monitoring dataset of a lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) forest (>9000 individually mapped trees in three 2‐ha plots) impacted by a severe mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreak to explore interactions among fine scale drivers of beetle‐caused tree mortality. Using a Bayesian spatial modeling approach, we evaluated how tree scale and tree neighborhood scale characteristics interact with tree size to mediate host tree susceptibility to mountain pine beetle outbreak in the Southern Rocky Mountains (USA). We found evidence that both tree growth rate preceding the outbreak and neighborhood structure (within a 10 meter radius of the host tree) mediate the effect of tree size, and that the direction and magnitude of these mediating effects vary with tree size. Tree scale mortality probability increased with pre‐outbreak growth rate for small to medium sized host trees (~10–25 cm diameter), but that same effect was not detected for large trees. Conversely, tree scale mortality probability increased with greater neighborhood density, with the most pronounced effects for medium to large sized host trees (~15–30 cm diameter). Within‐stand topographic variability was not an important predictor of mortality probability; among stands, however, the stand in the driest topographic position experienced the greatest overall mortality. By explicitly considering how within‐stand heterogeneity mediates individual tree scale susceptibility to bark beetle outbreak, our findings bridge an important gap in understanding multi‐scale drivers of disturbance dynamics.

Michele S. Buonanduci
Postdoctoral Researcher

My research interests include spatial analysis, landscape ecology, and forest ecology.