Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

James A. Lutz


James A. Lutz


R. Justin DeRose


Andrew Kulmatiski


Margaret Metz


Bonnie Waring


Fire, insects, and disease are necessary components of forest ecosystems. Yet, climate change is intensifying these tree stressors and creating new interactions that threaten forest survival. This dissertation combined field observations with statistical predictions of changing disturbances in western forests to identify 1) how conventional models may underestimate future forest loss, and 2) how positive relationships between trees may be exploited by managers to prevent forest loss.

In Chapter II, I tested whether increasingly extreme weather with climate change increases Pacific yew extinction risk. I found that conventional modeling methods underestimated local extinction risk because trees were adapted to a range in average conditions, but had limited tolerance of extreme drought.

In Chapter III, I predicted whether future climate change will alter the strength of competition between species (heterospecifics) versus within species (conspecifics). I found that heterospecific competition is more sensitive to drought than conspecific competition, leading to higher tree mortality during drought than is currently expected.

In Chapter IV, I looked at sugar pine tree rings to measure how pines respond to three centuries of fire exclusion, drought, fire, and a bark beetle outbreak. I found that fire suppression led to higher competitive stress, which decreased pines’ resilience to fire, and consequently, decreased pines’ survival during a subsequent bark beetle outbreak. Woody species diversity, however, was able to increase pine survival following fire and bark beetles by allowing higher pine growth and defenses.

In Chapter V, I tested whether beneficial relationships between trees and mutualistic fungi could help trees survive across regional differences in climate, environmental conditions, and disturbances. I found that woody species diversity increased large-diameter tree resistance to insects and disease, but only if those species shared a mycorrhizal network. Large trees comprising 17 common western species across three canonical forest types showed this pattern –– despite residing in different topographic positions and climatological contexts.

I identified how biodiversity can increase forest resistance and resilience to disturbances, but also found climate change to be weakening the processes responsible for maintaining biodiversity. Managers must take a more active approach to cultivating and preserving forest tree biodiversity to ensure forests are able to continue provisioning essential services, such as carbon storage, in the future. These four long-term studies of spatially explicit, cause-specific tree mortality provided useful insights into tree survival and forest change that will improve vegetation model accuracy and inform management of mature forests in western North America.