Beyond the Beetle: Modeling Change in a Post-Attack Subalpine Forest Ecosystem

By Colorado Eco Team , posted on April 3rd, 2013 in Spring 2013 VPS

Satellite imagery of bark beetle infestation. Credit: DEVELOP

Credit: DEVELOP

Authors: Bill Zawacki, Kelli Groy, Carl Reeder, Anthony Vorster

Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Jeffrey Morisette (U.S. Geological Survey), Paul Evangelista (Natural Resource Ecology Lab)

Team Location: North Central Climate Science Center, Fort Collins, Colorado

Abstract: Mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) has infested 3.4 million acres of forest in Colorado alone since the first outbreak in 1996 and continues to spread across western North America. This project studied forest structure before (2002) and after (2011) the mountain pine beetle outbreak in Fraser Experimental Forest (Grand County, Colorado) to develop a decision-support tool for partner agencies. Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper (TM) and Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) imagery combined with biologically relevant ancillary datasets were used with Software for Assisted Habitat Modeling (SAHM) to improve previous models of forest cover classification. These models were validated with field calibration methods and ArcGIS Spatial Analyst. Pre- and post-beetle forest classifications were compared to better understand the mountain pine beetle epidemic by identifying changes and similarities in forest cover abundance by species. The impacts of mountain pine beetle on forest structure need to be better understood to address influences on fire dynamics, habitats, aesthetics, recreation, watersheds, erosion, and safety. Results assisted in local management decisions, restoration efforts, and future research. This work was in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory of Colorado State University, and the North Central Climate Science Center.

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10 comments
Bikram ku das
Bikram ku das

A suite of real-time soil characteristic products for the contiguous United States will be enhanced by data from the upcoming Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite missions. These products are used by operational weather forecasters to aid in analyzing and forecasting drought, extreme heat, and convective initiation.

anjward7
anjward7

At the end of the video it was said that the team acknowledges the possibility for significant errors in the results of this study. Would you site an example and explain the source?

Kelsey Rooks
Kelsey Rooks

What future projects do you expect to use SAHM for? This project is great, and I look forward to seeing what else you can do with this new technology!

JasonBrentJones
JasonBrentJones

Near the beginning of your video, you showed a time series animation that showed global temperatures.  What imagery/data were used to create that time series?

amadson
amadson

Does the mountain pine beetle prefer one species of pine over others?

wmkzaw
wmkzaw

 @anjward7 Because we are using modeling techniques that are being learned in real time and the data sets that are being utilized may not be the best fit in terms of overall accuracy (during the mad scramble of a 10 week Develop Term), we thought it best if we used this disclaimer. As we continue using the modeling techniques and procedures from previous Develop Teams, we aim to reduce these research errors through better understanding of the particular modeling processes and consistency of accurate data transformation. Thanks!

wmkzaw
wmkzaw

 @Kelsey Rooks Hi Kelsey, thanks for asking! We are hoping to continue to utilize SAHM for the upcoming Develop term regarding how landscape-scale disturbances affect successional pathways of forest ecosystems. As we learn more about the enormous capabilities of the SAHM utility, we envision a much greater insight into how our forests will adapt to even greater challenges such as climate change and increased human development within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).

wmkzaw
wmkzaw

 @JasonBrentJones Jason, we actually "borrowed" that clip from a 2010 NASA video from Goddard Space Flight Center regarding mountain pine beetle impacts in Montana. I have also seen the same time series footage in one of my land use hydrology class lectures last semester, but I cannot recall where it was from originally or what imagery/data was used to create it. Thanks for the question though!

wmkzaw
wmkzaw

 @amadson Austin, the mountain pine beetle feeds on a number of pine species within their temperature and moisture tolerance thresholds, such as pondersoa and lodgepole. Pine species that fall historically outside of these thresholds, like limber pine at higher altitudes where temperatures dip below survival levels and pinyon pine in more xeric regions, are less favorable hosts for the beetle. One of the major concerns regarding climate change is that the higher elevation white bark pine species are now becoming far more susceptible to attack due to increasing temperatures at altitude. 

Thanks for your question!

BZ