Date of Award:
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Great Basin bristlecone pine (GBBP) (Pinus longaevaBailey) is one of the longest-lived organisms on Earth, and is one of the most highly fragmented high elevation conifer species. Throughout the Great Basin of the Intermountain West, GBBP are being impacted by changing disturbance regimes, invasive species, and climate change. To better understand the effects of climate variability and ecological disturbances in GBBP systems, three studies were designed and implemented. The first characterized the distribution of forest fuel in stands of GBBP and predicted how fuels may change under future climate scenarios. Using the Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) plot variables of tree species, height, diameter at breast height (DBH), canopy base height (CBH), coarse (CWD) and fine (FWD) woody debris across elevational gradients, this study examined the effects of changes to fuel loading on predicted changes in fire behavior and severity. All classes of FWD decreased with elevation, and only 1000-hr fuels remained constant across elevational transects. This, combined with lower CBH and foliar moisture and increasing temperatures due to climate change, suggested increased fire potential at the GBBP treeline. The second study examined the role of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and tree chemistry and their response to the environment. VOCs and within needle chemistry were collected and analyzed along elevational gradients near the northern and southern limits of GBBP. Random Forest analysis distinguished elevation using VOCs, with 83% accuracy, and identified the compounds most important for classification. Ordination revealed that temperature, heat load index, and relative humidity were each significantly correlated with VOCs. Within-needle chemistry provided less predictive value in classifying elevation (68% accuracy) and was correlated only with heat load index. These findings suggest that GBBP VOCs are highly sensitive to the environment. The final study explored the role of VOCs in host selection of mountain pine beetle (MPB). Mountain pine beetles oriented toward VOCs from host limber pine (Pinus flexilis James) and away from VOCs of non-host GBBP using a Y-tube olfactometer. When presented with VOCs of both trees, females overwhelmingly chose limber pine over GBBP. While there were only a few notable differences in VOCs collected from co-occurring GBBP and limber pine, 3-carene and D-limonene were produced in greater amounts by limber pine. There was no evidence that 3-carene is important for beetles when selecting trees, however, addition of D-limonene to GBBP VOCs disrupted the ability of beetles to distinguish between tree species. Climate change will impact how forests are managed and this research could provide insight into the mechanisms underlying the incredible longevity of this iconic tree species.
Gray, Curtis A., "Impact of Climate Variability on the Frequency and Severity of Ecological Disturbances in Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Sky Island Ecosystems" (2017). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 6529.