Long-Term Health Of Aspen Stands: Understanding The Drivers Of Population Decline For A Critical Foundation Species

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Hotter temperatures and shifts in rainfall patterns due to climate change are expected to increase drought stress and mortality in forests, especially in regions like the Great Basin and the western U.S. Elevated rates of tree mortality threaten critical ecosystem services provided by forests, including timber production, water purification, recreational use and their role as carbon sinks.

However, our ability to predict forest susceptibility to ongoing climate change is limited by our understanding of how drivers of mortality vary and interact across diverse landscapes and over long periods of time. This limitation has made it challenging to identify forest stands that are in decline and may require active management by agency professionals.

Recent, widespread mortality of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) in the western U.S. presents an “early-warning” opportunity to investigate influence of a changing climate on tree growth and mortality across the complex terrain of the intermountain west region. As the most widespread tree species in North America and one of the few broadleaf forest trees native to the Great Basin, aspen has major ecological and economic value.

The objective of this project is to document long-term variation in aspen performance across the Great Basin region and investigate the primary drivers of performance, including climate, topography, conifer encroachment and damage by herbivores and disease.