In recent years, many forest managers have become interested in managing forests for a wider range of objectives than previously. As an initial or intermediate treatment, variable-density thinning (VDT) can help meet objectives such as improving wildlife and plant habitats, increasing structural and compositional diversity, and enhancing aesthetic values in stands that are currently lacking spatial variability. The “skips and gaps” method of VDT is flexible, allowing for the preservation of existing desirable features. Areas that are not thinned (“skips”) will protect existing features that are best preserved by being within an area where logging equipment is excluded. “Gaps” can be created to closely approximate natural disturbance regimes through harvest of small groups or patches of trees. Gaps can increase growth and crown lengths of neighboring trees. Furthermore, gaps can be created that favor underrepresented tree species that are either already present or are planted after treatment. Areas that are not within skips or gaps (the “matrix”), are thinned to encourage growth of the overstory trees and the development of understory plants. This publication demonstrates the steps necessary to implement this type of VDT based on lessons learned from eight sites on the Olympic Habitat Development Study and two western Washington state parks.
Removal of stumps and suppression of sprouts after harvesting by conventional methods, such as using heavy machinery or herbicides, alters the physico-chemical characteristics of soil, may cause environmental damage and can be very costly. In this study, the performance of inoculation with edible fungi as a biological alternative for stump degradation, has been examined in walnut plantations of five Spanish provinces. Stumps were inoculated with two species of edible fungi: Pleurotus ostreatus (Jacq. Ex Fr.) P. Kumm and Lentinula edodes (Berk) Pené. Compared with untreated controls, the two biological treatments resulted in a significant and evident reduction of the sprouting probability, which was stronger than the result obtained with chemical treatments. Inoculated stumps also produced edible sporocarps, averaging 15.58 g per stump during the first year. This article constitutes the basis for the development of a sustainable, environmentally friendly and cost-effective product, which is a bioeconomy-based solution for stump degradation in intensive plantations.
Insects and pathogens are widely recognized as contributing to increased tree vulnerability to the projected future increasing frequency of hot and dry conditions, but the role of parasitic plants is poorly understood even though they are common throughout temperate coniferous forests in the western United States. We investigated the influence of western hemlock dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium tsugense) on large (≥45.7 cm diameter) western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) growth and mortality in a 500 year old coniferous forest at the Wind River Experimental Forest, Washington State, United States. We used five repeated measurements from a long‐term tree record for 1,395 T. heterophylla individuals. Data were collected across a time gradient (1991–2014) capturing temperature increases and precipitation decreases. The dwarf mistletoe rating (DMR), a measure of infection intensity, varied among individuals. Our results indicated that warmer and drier conditions amplified dwarf mistletoe effects on T. heterophylla tree growth and mortality. We found that heavy infection (i.e., high DMR) resulted in reduced growth during all four measurement intervals, but during warm and dry intervals (a) growth declined across the entire population regardless of DMR level, and (b) both moderate and heavy infections resulted in greater growth declines compared to light infection levels. Mortality rates increased from cooler‐wetter to warmerdrier measurement intervals, in part reflecting increasing mortality with decreasing tree growth. Mortality rates were positively related to DMR, but only during the warm and dry measurement intervals. These results imply that parasitic plants like dwarf mistletoe can amplify the impact of climatic stressors of trees, contributing to the vulnerability of forest landscapes to climate‐induced productivity losses and mortality events.
Climate change is shifting both the habitat suitability and the timing of critical biological events, such as flowering and fruiting, for plant species across the globe. Here, we ask how both the distribution and phenology of three food-producing shrubs native to northwestern North America might shift as the climate changes. To address this question, we compared gridded climate data with species location data to identify climate variables that best predicted the current bioclimatic niches of beaked hazelnut (Coryluscornuta), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), and salal (Gaultheria shallon). We also developed thermal-sum models for the timing of flowering and fruit ripening for these species. We then used multi-model ensemble future climate projections to estimate how species range and phenology may change under future conditions. Modelling efforts showed extreme minimum temperature, climate moisture deficit, and mean summer precipitation were predictive of climatic suitability across all three species. Future bioclimatic niche models project substantial reductions in habitat suitability across the lower elevation and southern portions of the species’ current ranges by the end of the 21st century. Thermal-sum phenology models for these species indicate that flowering and the ripening of fruits and nuts will advance an average of 25 days by the mid-21st century, and 36 days by the late-21st century under a high emissions scenario (RCP 8.5). Future changes in the climatic niche and phenology of these important food-producing species may alter trophic relationships, with cascading impacts on regional ecosystems.
Predicting the hydrological consequences following changes in grassland vegetation type (i.e., woody encroachment) requires an understanding of water flux dynamics at high spatiotemporal resolution for predominant species within grassland communities. However, grassland fluxes are typically measured at the leaf or landscape scale, which inhibits our ability to predict how individual species contribute to changing ecosystem fluxes. We used external heat balance sap flow sensors and a hierarchical Bayesian state-space modeling approach to bridge this “flux gap” and estimate continuous species-level water flux in common tallgrass prairie species. Specifically, we asked the following: (1) How do diurnal and nocturnal water fluxes differ among woody and herbaceous plants? (2) How sensitive are woody and herbaceous species to environmental drivers of diurnal and nocturnal water flux? We highlight three results: (1) Cornus drummondii, the primary woody encroacher in this grassland, exhibited the greatest canopy-level water loss; (2) nocturnal transpiration was a large component of the water lost in this ecosystem and was driven primarily by C4 grasses and C. drummondii; and (3) the sensitivity of canopy transpiration to environmental drivers varies among plant functional types and throughout a 24-hr period. Our data reveal important insights regarding the water use strategies of woody versus herbaceous species in tallgrass prairies and about the potential hydrological consequences of ongoing woody encroachment. We suggest that the high, static flux rates observed in woody species will likely deplete deep water stores over time, potentially creating hydrological deficits in grasslands experiencing woody encroachment and concomitantly increasing the vulnerability of these ecosystems to drought.
Detecting and understanding disturbance is a challenge in ecology that has grown more critical with global environmental change and the emergence of research on social–ecological systems. We identify three areas of research need: developing a flexible framework that incorporates feedback loops between social and ecological systems, anticipating whether a disturbance will change vulnerability to other environmental drivers, and incorporating changes in system sensitivity to disturbance in the face of global changes in environmental drivers. In the present article, we review how discoveries from the US Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network have influenced theoretical paradigms in disturbance ecology, and we refine a framework for describing social–ecological disturbance that addresses these three challenges. By operationalizing this framework for seven LTER sites spanning distinct biomes, we show how disturbance can maintain or alter ecosystem state, drive spatial patterns at landscape scales, influence social–ecological interactions, and cause divergent outcomes depending on other environmental changes.
A key assumption of epidemiological models is that population-scale disease spread is driven by close contact between hosts and pathogens. At larger scales, however, mechanisms such as spatial structure in host and pathogen populations and environmental heterogeneity could alter disease spread. The assumption that small-scale transmission mechanisms are sufficient to explain large-scale infection rates, however, is rarely tested. Here, we provide a rigorous test using an insect-baculovirus system. We fit a mathematical model to data from forest-wide epizootics while constraining the model parameters with data from branch-scale experiments, a difference in spatial scale of four orders of magnitude. This experimentally constrained model fits the epizootic data well, supporting the role of small-scale transmission, but variability is high. We then compare this model’s performance to an unconstrained model that ignores the experimental data, which serves as a proxy for models with additional mechanisms. The unconstrained model has a superior fit, revealing a higher transmission rate across forests compared with branch-scale estimates. Our study suggests that small-scale transmission is insufficient to explain baculovirus epizootics. Further research is needed to identify the mechanisms that contribute to disease spread across large spatial scales, and synthesizing models and multiscale data are key to understanding these dynamics.
Invertebrate herbivores depend on external temperature for growth and metabolism. Continued warming in tundra ecosystems is proposed to result in increased invertebrate herbivory. However, empirical data about how current levels of invertebrate herbivory vary across the Arctic is limited and generally restricted to a single host plant or a small group of species, so predicting future change remains challenging. We investigated large-scale patterns of invertebrate herbivory across the tundra biome at the community level and explored how these patterns are related to long-term climatic conditions and year-of-sampling weather, habitat characteristics, and aboveground biomass production. Utilizing a standardized protocol, we collected samples from 92 plots nested within 20 tundra sites during summer 2015. We estimated the community-weighted biomass lost based on the total leaf area consumed by invertebrates for the most common plant species within each plot. Overall, invertebrate herbivory was prevalent at low intensities across the tundra, with estimates averaging 0.94% and ranging between 0.02 and 5.69% of plant biomass. Our results suggest that mid-summer temperature influences the intensity of invertebrate herbivory at the community level, consistent with the hypothesis that climate warming should increase plant losses to invertebrates in the tundra. However, most of the observed variation in herbivory was associated with other site level characteristics, indicating that other local ecological factors also play an important role. More details about the local drivers of invertebrate herbivory are necessary to predict the consequences for rapidly changing tundra ecosystems.
Climate change is altering the suitable habitat and phenology of plant species around the world, with cascading effects on people and animals reliant upon those plant species as food sources. Huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) is one of these important food-producing plant species that grows in the Pacific Northwest of North America. Here, we modelled how the range and phenology of huckleberry may change as the climate changes. To address this question, we first utilized citizen scientist observations, long-term plot data, and gridded climate data to identify climate variables that best predicted the current bioclimatic niche and the timing of flowering and fruit ripening of huckleberry. We then used multi-model future climate projections for 2 time periods (2041–2070 and 2071–2100) and 2 greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5) to predict how the range and the timing of flowering and fruiting would change. The modelled bioclimatic niche for the current time period was a good match for our observations, with the model predicting a high probability of occurrence where the species was observed (AUC = 0.88). Suitable habitat for huckleberry was predicted to shrink by 5–40% across the northwestern USA by the end of the 21st century, and this reduction in predicted probability of occurrence was greatest at lower elevations, across drier portions of the current range of the species, and under the higher emissions scenario. Suitable habitat was predicted to expand at higher altitudes (>3,050 m) and in more northern locations in British Columbia by 5–60% by the end of the 21st century. To predict how future phenological dates might shift, we developed thermal sum models for flowering and fruiting under current climate conditions and then used those models to predict how these events would change based on climate predictions. Our phenology models suggested flowering would advance 23–50 days (mean 35 days) and fruiting would advance 24–52 days (mean 36 days) by the end of the 21st century under the RCP 8.5 scenario; greater advances in phenology were shown over more northerly and higher altitude regions. These large shifts in potential range and phenology could greatly alter trophic relationships and the timing and location of traditional harvests in the future.