Study Finds Bark Beetles And Wildfires Alter Forest Structure

Feb 2, 2021

Subalpine forests lie just below tree-line, like the Sprague Lake area in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Credit NPS Photo / Jim Ecklund

A new study finds that bark beetle infestations and wildfires may change the structure of forests.

Colorado State University researcher Zoe Schapira measured and classified the components of subalpine forests in Colorado and Wyoming. She did this for healthy areas and forests that had been affected by bark beetles or burned by wildfires.

Schapira said forests with trees killed by beetles or wildfires had a lot of dead trees on the ground. But she said there were also signs of trees regrowing, which tells scientists about the future of the forest.

"We saw pretty much similar tree regeneration in the beetle outbreak sites compared to our control, or the sites that didn't really have a lot of mortality," said Schapira. "But after the fires, there was really minimal subalpine tree species regeneration, if any."

She said that doesn't necessarily mean that forests won't come back after a fire.

"We were seeing Lodgepole Pine and Aspen come back, so at least there are trees coming back," said Schapira. "Instead of not seeing a forest at all, we may just see altered structures and altered species in subalpine forests."

She said understanding the new trees and structures in the forest will help scientists and managers prepare for the future.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.