Articles | Volume 10, issue 12
Research article
12 Dec 2013
Research article |  | 12 Dec 2013

Simulated impacts of mountain pine beetle and wildfire disturbances on forest vegetation composition and carbon stocks in the Southern Rocky Mountains

M. K. Caldwell, T. J. Hawbaker, J. S. Briggs, P. W. Cigan, and S. Stitt

Abstract. Forests play an important role in sequestering carbon and offsetting anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, but changing disturbance regimes may compromise the capability of forests to store carbon. In the Southern Rocky Mountains, a recent outbreak of mountain pine beetle (\textit{Dendroctonus ponderosae}; MPB) has caused remarkable levels of tree mortality. To evaluate the long-term impacts of both this insect outbreak and another characteristic disturbance in these forests, high-severity wildfire, we simulated potential changes in species composition and carbon stocks using the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS). Simulations were completed for 3 scenarios (no disturbance, actual MPB infestation, and modeled wildfire) using field data collected in 2010 at 97 plots in the lodgepole-pine-dominated forests of eastern Grand County, Colorado, which were heavily impacted by MPB after 2002. Results of the simulations showed that (1) lodgepole pine remained dominant over time in all scenarios, with basal area recovering to pre-disturbance levels 70–80 yr after disturbance; (2) wildfire caused a greater magnitude of change than did MPB in both patterns of succession and distribution of carbon among biomass pools; (3) levels of standing-live carbon returned to pre-disturbance conditions after 40 vs. 50 yr following MPB vs. wildfire disturbance, respectively, but took 120 vs. 150 yr to converge with conditions in the undisturbed scenario. Lodgepole pine forests appear to be relatively resilient to both of the disturbances we modeled, although changes in climate, future disturbance regimes, and other factors may significantly affect future rates of regeneration and ecosystem response.

Final-revised paper