Aspen (Populus tremuloides) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) co-occur in the southern Rocky Mountains (USA), where mountain pine beetle (MPB, Dendroctonus ponderosae) has caused extensive lodgepole pine mortality since the late 1990s. Both species excel in post-disturbance high-light environments, but lodgepole pine has generally been thought to establish poorly on undisturbed seedbeds, and aspen suckering may be inhibited by intact aspen overstory. We ask whether lodgepole pine and aspen will regenerate in sufficient quantities to revegetate these forests. We visited a random sample of aspen and lodgepole pine stands across the affected landscape in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming to measure regeneration and overstory mortality. Lodgepole pine regeneration is occurring in 85% of stands, and most stands have >550 stems ha−1. The median aspen sucker density was 6175 stems ha−1. Surprisingly, neither lodgepole pine nor aspen regeneration density was related to overstory mortality level. Animal damage is currently affecting aspen in these forests. Over 50% of stands had damage to 60% or more of their suckers, but 30% of stands had <20% of their stems damaged. Browsed stems were significantly shorter for their ages and were shorter than the 2.5-m height threshold for possible elk browsing. However, the results suggest that sufficient quantities of down lodgepole pine may protect aspen from damage and allow aspen to successfully recruit to the overstory. Multiple regression analysis showed that down lodgepole pine basal area, followed by browsing pressure, were the most important predictors of sucker height and the proportion of suckers browsed. Although 15% of stands had no lodgepole pine regeneration, aspen and lodgepole pine forests are generally regenerating despite animal browsing on aspen. This study is the first to present a regional perspective on regeneration in MPB-affected lodgepole pine and aspen forests, and overall, intervention does not seem necessary to ensure a mix of both species in the future.
Pelz, K., and F. Smith. 2018. Effects of Stand Structure, Browsing, and Biophysical Conditions on Regeneration Following Mountain Pine Beetle in Mixed Lodgepole Pine and Aspen Forests of the Southern Rockies. Forests 9:525.