Response of bark beetles and their natural enemies to fire and fire surrogate treatments in mixed-conifer forests in western Montana

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Forest Ecology and Management

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Four treatments (control, burn-only, thin-only, and thin-and-burn) were evaluated for their effects on bark beetle-caused mortality in both the short-term (one to four years) and the long-term (seven years) in mixed-conifer forests in western Montana, USA. In addition to assessing bark beetle responses to these treatments, we also measured natural enemy landing rates and resin flow of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) the season fire treatments were implemented. All bark beetles were present at low population levels (non-outbreak) for the duration of the study. Post-treatment mortality of trees due to bark beetles was lowest in the thin-only and control units and highest in the units receiving burns. Three tree-killing bark beetle species responded positively to fire treatments: Douglas-fir beetle (Dendroctonus pseudotsugae), pine engraver (Ips pini), and western pine beetle (Dendroctonus brevicomis). Red turpentine beetle (Dendroctonus valens) responded positively to fire treatments, but never caused mortality. Three fire damage variables tested (height of crown scorch, percent circumference of the tree bole scorched, or degree of ground char) were significant factors in predicting beetle attack on trees. Douglas-fir beetle and pine engraver responded rapidly to increased availability of resources (fire-damaged trees); however, successful attacks dropped rapidly once these resources were depleted. Movement to green trees by pine engraver was not observed in plots receiving fire treatments, or in thinned plots where slash supported substantial reproduction by this beetle. The fourth tree-killing beetle present at the site, the mountain pine beetle, did not exhibit responses to any treatment. Natural enemies generally arrived at trees the same time as host bark beetles. However, the landing rates of only one, Medetera spp., was affected by treatment. This predator responded positively to thinning treatments. This insect was present in very high numbers indicating a regulatory effect on beetles, at least in the short-term, in thinned stands. Resin flow decreased from June to August. However, resin flow was significantly higher in trees in August than in June in fire treatments. Increased flow in burned trees later in the season did not affect beetle attack success. Overall, responses by beetles to treatments were short-term and limited to fire-damaged trees. Expansions into green trees did not occur. This lack of spread was likely due to a combination of high tree vigor in residual stands and low background populations of bark beetles.