You are here

Assessing interactions of mountain pine beetles, fire, and vegetation dynamics to model wildlife habitat suitability under alternative climate and management scenarios

May, 2003

American three-toed woodpeckers are associated with recently disturbed forests and specialize in feeding on mountain pine beetle larvae.
American three-toed woodpeckers are associated with recently disturbed forests and specialize in feeding on mountain pine beetle larvae.
Synergistic interactions of climate change, mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestations, and wildfire are likely to catalyze landscape-scale changes in vegetation distributions, successional stage, forest structure, and wildlife habitat suitability. We are linking a mechanistic model of MPB population success and a mechanistic, individual-tree succession model (FireBGCv2) to project changes in the magnitude and scope of MPB outbreaks under a range of climate conditions. Our modeling framework also allows dynamic simulations of potential changes in forest composition and structure, wildfire risk, and wildlife habitat suitability at landscape scales, while also incorporating direct and indirect interactions among disturbances. We are assessing wildlife habitat for a variety of species, including disturbance-associated woodpeckers of conservation concern.


  1. Calibrate FireBGCv2 using existing field data from the Elkhorn Mountains, MT, pre-MPB outbreak (2002-2006) and post-outbreak 2009-2014;

  2. Link a temperature-driven MPB model with FireBGCv2;

  3. Develop dynamic models of wildlife habitat suitability that reflect changes in environmental conditions with time since MPB outbreak; and

  4. Simulate the effects of potential future fire and MPB disturbance regimes on forest structure and wildlife habitat suitability under a range of climate and management scenarios.

Key Findings

Preliminary research on habitat for avian species following the MPB outbreak demonstrate:

  • Short-term increases in occupancy probability for beetle-foraging species, but decreases for some foliage-gleaning canopy insectivores;

  • Intermediate change in occupancy probability for many ground and shrub insectivores;

  • No change in overall species richness of native avifauna;

  • No change in nest survival of 5 woodpecker species over 9 years; and

  • Significant increases in nest densities of 3 beetle-foraging woodpecker species during the MPB outbreak.

Benefits to resource managers

The avian portion of this study provides essential scientific information for developing post-beetle management guidelines that maintain populations and habitats of species of conservation concern. The community-wide nature of our analysis elucidates the variety and degree of changes exhibited, and also gives managers more information upon which to base their decisions regarding post-beetle management activities.


Saab, Victoria A. ; Latif, Quresh ; Rowland, Mary M. ; Johnson, Tracey N. ; Chalfoun, Anna D. ; Buskirk, Steven W. ; Heyward, Joslin E. ; Dresser, Matthew A. , 2014


Webinars: “Beetles, Burns, and Wildlife” and RMRS “Future Forests Webinar Series” on 6 March 2012. 

Dresser, M. A. 2015. Demographic responses of woodpeckers in relation to a mountain pine beetle epidemic in the Elkhorn Mountains of Montana.  M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman, 71 pp.

Mosher, B.A. 2011. Avian community response to a mountain pine beetle epidemic. M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman, 61 pp.

Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Denise Pengeroth - Helena National Forest
Lois Olsen - Helena National Forest
Amanda Hendrix - Helena National Forest
Kim Mellen-Mclean - USFS Pacific Northwest Region
Gunnar Carnwath - USFS Pacific Northwest Region

Research Staff:
Martha Ellis - Montana State Univeristy
Matt Dresser - Montana State University
Brittany Mosher - Montana State University

Funding Contributors:
National Fire Plan
RMRS Climate Change funding
USFS Northern Region
Helena National Forest
Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center
USFS Pacific Northwest Region