In the Rocky Mountain states of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Idaho, acres of trees infested with the mountain pine beetle pose threats to hunters, fishermen, hikers, campers and other outdoor recreationalists. Each day for 10 tears, an estimated 100,000 dead trees will fall, endangering human life and infrastructure. Thousands of miles of roads and trails, hundreds of developed recreation sites, ski areas, power lines, and water supplies are at risk from the hazardous trees.
The widespread outbreak is altering forest ecology. While tree regeneration in infested stands is abundant, the composition of the forest community is changing. Forest management practices can affect soil resources and species colonization, which have implications for the potential of future forest fires.
Research published in Nature Climate Change suggests that subalpine fir may replace the lodgepole pine in Colorado stands decimated by the mountain pine beetle. Changes in forest composition will produce numerous and diverse effects on animal habitat and biodiversity, on health conditions and disease prevalence, on ecosystem services such as water retention and purification, and land-atmosphere interactions affecting, among other things, carbon uptake and sequestration. Calling for more research into forest mortality and succession, the authors argue that climate change is a unique phenomenon causing permanent range contractions for tree species as their climate niche moves.