Effects of Douglas-fir Beetle (Coleoptera: Scolytidae) Infestations on Forest Overstory and Understory Conditions in Western Wyoming

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Western North American Naturalist

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Douglas-fir beetle (Dendroctonus pseudotsugae Hopk.) infestations frequently result from disturbance events that create large volumes of weakened Douglas-fir trees, Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco. Previous research has focused on determining susceptibility of forest stands to Douglas-fir beetle and predicting the amount of tree mortality from Douglas-fir beetle infestations following disturbance events. Little work has been done on consequent changes in the forest overstory and understory. In the early 1990s, populations of Douglas-fir beetle increased in fire-scorched trees, subsequently infesting undamaged neighboring stands in the Rocky Mountains of western Wyoming, USA. In 1999 transect sampling and 25 pairs of previously infested and uninfested plots were used to quantify changes in forest stand conditions and ensuing responses in the understory caused by Douglas-fir beetle infestations. Significant effects of the Douglas-fir beetle infestation comprised 3 general categories: (1) overstory effects: basal area was reduced by 40%-70%, average tree diameter decreased by 8%-40%, and the Douglas-fir component of the overstory decreased by more than 12%; (2) regeneration effects: conifer seedling regeneration increased nearly fourfold in infested plots and 90% of the regeneration was Douglas-fir; (3) understory effects: understory vegetation (forbs, grass, and shrubs) had a threefold increase in infested compared with uninfested plots. In addition, basal area of Douglas-fir killed by the Douglasfir beetle was significantly correlated with initial Douglas-fir basal area and percentage of Douglas-fir, but not with stand density index, tree diameter, or trees per hectare. Significant inverse relationships also were found between postinfestation basal area and abundance of forbs, grass, and shrubs, and understory height. Thus, we found that Douglas-fir beetle infestations cause significant short-term effects in both the overstory and understory and contribute to an altered mosaic in forest structure.