AbstractsEarth & Environmental Science

Mapping disturbance interactions from earth and space : insect effects on tree mortality, fuels, and wildfires across forests of the Pacific Northwest

by Garrett W. Meigs

Institution: Oregon State University
Department: Forest Science
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Keywords: bark beetle; Ecological disturbances  – Northwest, Pacific  – Remote sensing
Record ID: 2029741
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1957/52357


Given the vital role of forest ecosystems in landscape pattern and process, it is important to quantify the effects, feedbacks, and uncertainties associated with forest disturbance dynamics. In western North America, insects and wildfires are both native disturbances that have influenced forests for millennia, and both are projected to increase with anthropogenic climate change. Although there is acute concern that insect-caused tree mortality increases the likelihood or severity of subsequent wildfire, previous research has been mixed, with results often based on individual fire or insect events. Much of the ambivalence in the literature can be attributed to differences in the particular insect of interest, forest type, and fire event, but it is also related to the spatiotemporal scale of analysis and a general lack of geospatial datasets spanning enough time and space to capture multiple forest disturbances consistently and accurately. This dissertation presents a regional-scale framework to map, quantify, and understand insect-wildfire interactions across numerous insect and fire events across the Pacific Northwest region (PNW). Through three related studies, I worked with many collaborators to develop regionally extensive but fine-grained maps to assess the spatiotemporal patterns of wildfires and the two most pervasive, damaging forest insects in the PNW – mountain pine beetle (MPB; Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins [Coleoptera: Scolytidae]; a bark beetle) and western spruce budworm (WSB; Choristoneura freemani Razowksi [Lepidoptera: Tortricidae]; a defoliator). The proximate objectives of developing new maps and summarizing where and when insects have occurred before wildfires enable us to address the ultimate question: How does forest insect activity influence the likelihood of subsequent wildfire? In a pilot study focused on the forest stand scale (Chapter Two), we leveraged a Landsat time series change detection algorithm (LandTrendr), annual forest health aerial detection surveys (ADS), and field measurements to investigate MPB and WSB effects on spectral trajectories, tree mortality, and fuel profiles at 38 plots in the Cascade Range of Oregon. Insect effects were evident in the Landsat time series as combinations of both short- and long-duration changes. WSB trajectories appeared to show a consistent temporal evolution of long-duration spectral decline followed by recovery, whereas MPB trajectories exhibited both short- and long-duration spectral declines and variable recovery rates. When comparing remote sensing data with field measurements of insect impacts, we found that spectral changes were related to cover-based estimates (e.g., tree basal area mortality and down coarse woody detritus). In contrast, ADS changes were related to count-based estimates (e.g., dead tree density). Fine woody detritus and forest floor depth were not well correlated with Landsat- or aerial survey-based change metrics. This study demonstrated the utility of insect mapping methods that capture a wide range of spectral…