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    Depending on how disease impacts tree exposure to risk, both the prevalence of disease and disease effects on survival may contribute to patterns of mortality risk across a species’ range. Disease may accelerate tree species’ declines in response to global change factors, such as drought, biotic interactions, such as competition, or functional traits, such as allometry. To assess the role of disease in mediating mortality risk in quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), we developed hierarchical Bayesian models for both disease prevalence in live aspen stems and the resulting survival rates of healthy and diseased aspen near the species’ southern range limit using 5088 individual trees on 281 United States Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis plots in the southwestern United States. We found that disease prevalence depended primarily on tree size, tree allometry, and spatial variation in precipitation, while mortality depended on tree size, allometry, competition, spatial variation in summer temperature, and both temporal and spatial variation in summer precipitation. Disease prevalence was highest in large trees with low slenderness found on dry sites. For healthy trees, mortality decreased with diameter, slenderness, and temporal variation in summer precipitation, but increased with competition and spatial variation in summer temperature. Mortality of diseased trees decreased with diameter and aspen relative basal area and increased with mean summer temperature and precipitation. Disease infection increased aspen mortality, especially in trees of intermediate size and trees on plots at climatic extremes (i.e., cool, wet and warm, dry climates). By examining variation in disease prevalence, mortality of healthy trees, and mortality of diseased trees, we showed that the role of disease in aspen tree mortality depended on the scale of inference. For variation among individuals in diameter, disease tended to expose intermediate-size trees experiencing moderate risk to greater risk. For spatial variation in summer temperature, disease exposed lower risk populations to greater mortality probabilities, but the magnitude of this exposure depended on summer precipitation. Furthermore, the importance of diameter and slenderness in mediating responses to climate supports the increasing emphasis on trait variation in studies of ecological responses to global change.

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    Bell, David M.; Bradford, John B.; Lauenroth, William K. 2015. Scale-dependence of desease impacts on quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) mortality risk in the southwestern U.S. Ecology. 96(7): 1835-1845.


    allometry, aspen, climate, competition, disease, forest inventory and analysis, hierarchical bayesian modeling

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