Disturbance Regime and Disturbance Interactions in a Rocky Mountain Subalpine Forest

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Journal of Ecology

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1. The spatial and temporal patterns of fire, snow avalanches and spruce beetle out-breaks were investigated in Marvine Lakes Valley in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in forests of Picea engelmannii, Abies lasiocarpa, Pseudotsuga menziesii and Populus tremuloides. Dates and locations of disturbances were determined by dendrochronological techniques. A geographic information system (GIS) was used to calculate areas affected by the different disturbance agents and to examine the spatial relationships of the different disturbances. 2. In the Marvine Lakes Valley, major disturbance was caused by fire in the 1470s, the 1630s and the 1870s and by spruce beetle out break in c. 1716, 1827 and 1949. 3. Since c. 1633, 9% of the Marvine Lakes Valley has been affected by snow avalanches, 38.6% by spruce beetle out break and 59.1% by fire. At sites susceptible to avalanches, avalanches occur at a near-annual frequency. The mean return intervals for fire and spruce beetle outbreaks are 202 and 116.5 years, respectively. Turnover times for fire and spruce beetle out breaks are 521 and 259 years, respectively. 4. Several types of disturbance interaction were identified. For example, large and severe snow avalanches influence the spread of fire. Similarly, following a stand- devastating fire or avalanche, Picea populations will not support a spruce beetle out-break until individual trees reach a minimum diameter which represents at least 70 years' growth.Thus, recent fires and beetle out breaks have non over lapping distributions.