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A decade later - new findings about high elevation forests impacted by mountain pine beetles in Colorado

Posted date: August 05, 2020

FORT COLLINS, Colo. Aug. 6, 2020 - High elevation trees impacted by mountain pine beetles threw researchers a curve ball. Chuck Rhoades, a Research Biogeochemist with Rocky Mountain Research Station, explained, “We were surprised at how few of the beetle-killed pines that we tagged at the beginning of the outbreak more than a decade ago have actually fallen, less than 20 percent in fact.” 

Rhoades collaborated with Wyoming University researchers and recently published “Snagfall the first decade after severe bark beetle infestation of high elevation forests in Colorado, USA” in the journal Ecological Applications. Prior to this study, snagfall dynamics of trees killed by mountain pine beetles were poorly understood in most forest types. The findings are different from earlier studies of snags created from mountain pine beetle outbreaks in ponderosa or lower elevation forests. These results can be used to help predict how bark beetle infestations at high elevations contribute to fire risks from standing fuels, impact snow and water yield, harvest possibilities, wildlife habitat in the form of cavities and large diameter logs, stand regeneration, carbon storage, and much more. Initial results indicate that forest stand structure may be influenced by these mountain pine beetle outbreaks for decades or even a century in these high elevation forests.

Rhoades says, “The study is another great example of the value of the USDA Forest Service Experimental Forest network”. This paper analyzes wind speed and direction data from Fraser Experimental Forest in conjunction with forest ecology and disturbance data. Understanding the dynamic of snags and the rate they fall is important information for foresters and land managers responsible for maintaining forest health and productivity.

The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development. RMRS maintains 14 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale. To find out more about the RMRS go to You can also follow us on Twitter at




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National Strategic Program Areas: 
Resource Management and Use
National Priority Research Areas: 
Forest Disturbances
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Forest and Woodland Ecosystems
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Disturbance Ecology; Resilient Landscapes
Lisa Bryant
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