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Ecology

Science Spotlights

Arm reaching into stream water with sampling cup
The mountain sucker has been declining in the Upper Missouri River Basin for unknown reasons. To address this uncertainty, a team of Forest Service researchers collected additional genetic data from these fish to find a section of DNA that is completely unique to this new species and developed an environmental DNA assay to detect this unique DNA fragment in water samples with increased accuracy. 
A picture of a small cage with abundant blanket flowers.
A recent meta-analysis collating global results from seed predation studies found that small mammals may structure plant communities around the world, with an interesting twist – in deserts where seeds are relatively small, they suppress large-seeded plants, but in systems like tropical forests, where seed sizes are much larger, they tend to suppress relatively small seeded plant species.
Looking up at western larches changing color.
Concern about changing climate is focusing attention on how silvicultural treatments can be used to regenerate or restore forested landscapes. In this study we leveraged a 30-year-old forest management-driven experiment to explore the recovery of woody species composition, regeneration of the charismatic forest tree species western larch, and vegetation and soil carbon and nitrogen pools. 
A picture of a pine tree core with visible tree rings, and resin ducts visible as small dots within the rings.
Resin ducts are formed in the wood of pine trees and are a measure of the level of tree defense from insects and pathogens. We developed methods and software code to allow researchers to more easily quantify resin ducts.
An adult and juvenile spotted owl looking out from a hole in a dead, charred tree.
Whether severe fire is good or bad for spotted owls will influence how some forests are managed for fire risk. In reality, the effects of severe fire on spotted owls depends on the size of severely-burned patches, as well as their configuration and complexity. Owls actively use small patches of severely-burned forest, but they avoid larger patches and will abandon territories that are extensively affected by severe fire.
A ponderosa pine forest with mature trees in the background and seedlings in the foreground.
Lick Creek is the longest running fuel treatment and restoration study of ponderosa pine forests in the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains. Through repeat photography and numerous published studies, we show how fuels and vegetation have changed over the 25 years since treatment and compare the effects of mechanical harvesting with and without prescribed burning.
A broken, dead tree that shows evidence of mountain pine beetle activity
From the late 1990s through the mid-2010s there have been extensive outbreaks of mountain pine beetle across the west from the Southern Rockies to British Columbia. It is often thought that these outbreaks are “unprecedented.” An understanding of historical disturbances is particularly critical as we continue to develop strategies for forest management under climate change.
Spruce forest in the Tien Shan Mountains above Almaty, Kazakystan
Less than 5% of Kazakhstan is forested, so those forests are highly valued for erosion prevention, water retention, timber, and recreation. Yet little is known about their ecology or threats to forest health. A 200-year tree-ring reconstruction by RMRS scientists and collaborators indicates that bark beetles have historically posed little threat to these forests.
A closeup photo of a mountain pine beetle.
A generation time of 1 year is the most successful strategy for mountain pine beetle, a notable tree killer in the western U.S. However, generations time is dictated by temperature, which is changing globally. Because locally evolved adaptations in mountain pine beetle have resulted in strict physiological requirements for temperature regimes at specific times of the year, population persistence will be dependent on temperature changes that are...
Six pine beetles placed upon a penny
The mountain pine beetle is the most notable killer of pines in western North America. Bristlecone pines grow at high elevations and are among the longest-lived conifers globally.  Although the bristlecone species Great Basin bristlecone and foxtail pine appear to be less preferred by mountain pine beetle and may not be suitable for mountain pine beetle offspring success, their close relative Rocky Mountain bristlecone is now a confirmed and...

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