Climate-driven increases in wildfires, drought conditions, and insect outbreaks are critical threats to forest carbon stores. In particular, bark beetles are important disturbance agents although their long-term interactions with future climate change are poorly understood. Droughts and the associated moisture deficit contribute to the onset of bark beetle outbreaks although outbreak extent and severity is dependent upon the density of host trees, wildfire, and forest management. Our objective was to estimate the effects of climate change and bark beetle outbreaks on ecosystem carbon dynamics over the next century in a western US forest. Specifically, we hypothesized that (a) bark beetle outbreaks under climate change would reduce net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB) and increase uncertainty and (b) these effects could be ameliorated by fuels management. We also examined the specific tree species dynamics—competition and release—that determined NECB response to bark beetle outbreaks. Our study area was the Lake Tahoe Basin (LTB), CA and NV, USA, an area of diverse forest types encompassing steep elevation and climatic gradients and representative of mixed-conifer forests throughout the western United States. We simulated climate change, bark beetles, wildfire, and fuels management using a landscape-scale stochastic model of disturbance and succession. We simulated the period 2010–2100 using downscaled climate projections. Recurring droughts generated conditions conducive to large-scale outbreaks; the resulting large and sustained outbreaks significantly increased the probability of LTB forests becoming C sources over decadal time scales, with slower-than-anticipated landscape-scale recovery. Tree species composition was substantially altered with a reduction in functional redundancy and productivity. Results indicate heightened uncertainty due to the synergistic influences of climate change and interacting disturbances. Our results further indicate that current fuel management practices will not be effective at reducing landscape-scale outbreak mortality. Our results provide critical insights into the interaction of drivers (bark beetles, wildfire, fuel management) that increase the risk of C loss and shifting community composition if bark beetle outbreaks become more frequent.
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This research was funded by a grant from the Sierra Nevada Public Lands Management Act (P086). We are grateful to Jian Yang, Tom Dilts, and Alison Stanton for their contribution to prior efforts that were essential to the research herein. We thank the Lake Tahoe Basin agency personnel at the federal, state, and local level as well as the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station for their support and feedback throughout the project. Writing of this paper was supported in part by the Department of Defense, Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (RC-2243).
RS: Conceived of or designed study, Performed research, Analyzed data, Contributed new methods or models, Wrote the paper; AK: Performed research, Analyzed data, Wrote the paper; LL: Conceived of or designed study, Performed research; MH: Conceived of or designed study, Wrote the paper; PW: Conceived of or designed study; CS: Conceived of or designed study.
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Scheller, R.M., Kretchun, A.M., Loudermilk, E.L. et al. Interactions Among Fuel Management, Species Composition, Bark Beetles, and Climate Change and the Potential Effects on Forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Ecosystems 21, 643–656 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-017-0175-3
- net ecosystem carbon balance
- bark beetles
- fuels management
- climate change
- Lake Tahoe Basin