Assessment of a Seedling-Based Approach to Aspen Restoration in the Intermountain West
Utah State University, Department of Ecology
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is an important species ecologically and culturally in the western U.S., where it is one of the only broadleaf trees in the mostly conifer-dominated forests. Aspen management in the West has focused on regenerating existing stands vegetatively through root suckering, however this approach is restricted to locations where aspen currently exists and limits the genetic diversity of aspen populations. Planting nursery-grown aspen seedlings offers a potential method for overcoming these limitations, but it has received little attention in the U.S. Intermountain West (IW) to date. In order for this approach to be more broadly implemented, nursery protocols designed to grow high-quality aspen seedlings are needed, along with an understanding of what the major challenges to seedling establishment will be.
With the assistance of my committee, my research tested a seedling-based approach to aspen restoration in an IW context in two phases. I first used nursery protocols developed for boreal aspen to grow seedlings collected from IW sources in order to assess whether modification of the protocols would be necessary. I then planted the seedlings I grew at three sites in southwestern Utah and monitored their growth and survival over two years. Results from the nursery phase suggest that protocols will need to be modified in order to produce a more consistent response from IW aspen seedlings. In the field, only 10% of the seedlings survived, though the majority of survival occurred in just two locations where soil moisture remained highest during the driest part of the early summer. These results provide useful information to direct future research and suggest that with a better understanding of appropriate site selection, seedling-based aspen restoration could still become a viable management tool in the IW.
Howe, A. A. 2018. Assessment of a Seedling-Based Approach to Aspen Restoration in the Intermountain West. Utah State University, Logan, Utah. [Thesis].