Disturbances are natural and essential components of healthy ecosystems, but their ecological roles in the maintenance of endemic conditions for an area (that is, long-established levels of activity that are of low magnitude and relatively static intensity and cause unnoticed or relatively low amounts of tree killing, defoliation, or deformation) are poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to develop a conceptual model of stand development that links stand structure with underlying tree-killing disturbances. Transect surveys were used to identify and assess stand structure of a 60-ha study site in a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex P. Laws. & C. Laws.) stand with no harvest or management history. The site was composed of a mosaic of four different stages of stand development. The conceptual model hypothesized that different disturbance agents were associated with different stand types, and that these agents played two basic ecological roles: (1) fire, wind, and epidemic populations of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) killed trees over large enough areas to allow new stands to develop, and (2) suppression, competition, ice/snow buildup, western gall rust, endemic mountain pine beetle populations, wildfire, shrub competition, poor site quality, low light intensity, limb rust, wind, lightning, and armillaria root disease created small-scale canopy gaps that changed the growth environment for established trees and thereby influenced stand development and structure. The importance of single agents may be difficult to estimate because disturbances interact concurrently and sequentially in time and space.
Mountain environments are currently among the ecosystems least invaded by non-native species; however, mountains are increasingly under threat of non-native plant invasion. The slow pace of exotic plant invasions in mountain ecosystems is likely due to a combination of low anthropogenic disturbances, low propagule supply, and extreme/steep environmental gradients. The importance of any one of these factors is debated and likely ecosystem dependent.We evaluated the importance of various correlates of plant invasions in the Wallowa Mountain Range of northeastern Oregon and explored whether non-native species distributions differed from native species along an elevation gradient. Vascular plant communities were sampled in summer 2012 along three mountain roads. Transects (n = 20) were evenly stratified by elevation (~70 m intervals) along each road. Vascular plant species abundances and environmental parameters were measured. We used indicator species analysis to identify habitat affinities for non-native species. Plots were ordinated in species space, joint plots and non-parametric multiplicative regression were used to relate species and community variation to environmental variables. Nonnative species richness decreased continuously with increasing elevation. In contrast, native species richness displayed a unimodal distribution with maximum richness occurring at mid–elevations. Species composition was strongly related to elevation and canopy openness. Overlays of trait and environmental factors onto non-metric multidimensional ordinations identified the montane-subalpine community transition and over-story canopy closure exceeding 60% as potential barriers to non-native species establishment. Unlike native species, non-native species showed little evidence for high-elevation or closed-canopy specialization. These data suggest that non-native plants currently found in the Wallowa Mountains are dependent on open canopies and disturbance for establishment in low and mid elevations. Current management objectives including restoration to more open canopies in dry Rocky Mountain forests, may increase immigration pressure of non-native plants from lower elevations into the montane and subalpine zones.