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Study Finds Bark Beetles And Wildfires Alter Forest Structure

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.

Ashley is a PhD student in Astronomy and Physics at UW. She loves to communicate science and does so with WPM, on the Astrobites blog, and through outreach events. She was born in Colorado and got her BS in Engineering Physics at Colorado School of Mines. Ashley loves hiking and backpacking during Wyoming days and the clear starry skies at night!
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