Age structure of aspen forests on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado
Canadian Journal of Forest Research
Aspen forests are one of the most dynamic forest types in western North America, responding to chronic factors of competition for resources, as well as episodes of intense herbivory, drought, and fires. The interactions of these driving factors lead to varying age structures of aspen across landscapes and through time. We characterized the age structure of aspen trees on the Uncompahgre Plateau in western Colorado, USA, to inform collaborative efforts of landscape-scale forest restoration. Over 1000 cores from 51 locations showed few aspen older than 140 years (<0.5% for aspen numbers, <2.5% of aspen basal area). Heavy recruitment in the late 1800s (following the last major fires) led to cohorts from 100 to 140 years of age that account for 15% of current aspen numbers and 40% of current aspen basal area. Perhaps the most important character of the current age structure is a relatively low number of aspen younger than 50 years; normal rates of tree survivorship in coming decades will lead to a substantial decline in aspen on the Plateau as these cohorts progress into older age classes. Patterns of aspen ages on the Uncompahgre Plateau differ substantially from those on the Kaibab Plateau and in Rocky Mountain National Park, owing the varying importance in space and time of driving factors. Landscape-scale increases in aspen regeneration (from major events such as fire) would be necessary to moderate the long-term decline in aspen on the Uncompahgre Plateau.
Binkley, D., A. Alsanousi, and W. H. Romme. 2014. Age structure of aspen forests on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 44:836-841.