- ItemOpen AccessCharacterizing 30-years of conifer regeneration patterns in high-severity wildfires: a snow-cover remote sensing approach(Colorado State University. Libraries, 2023) Menick, Casey, author; Hoffman, Chad M., advisor; Tinkham, Wade T., advisor; Vanderhoof, Melanie K., committee member; Vogeler, Jody C., committee memberThe number of large, high-severity wildfires has been increasing across the Western United States. It is not fully understood how wildfire intensification may impact conifer forests of the West, whose resilience is dependent on successful seedling regeneration. It is important to understand how conifer-dominated forests are able to recolonize high-severity burn patches and subsequently respond to shifting disturbance regimes. The goal of our research is to characterize patterns of conifer recolonization within high-severity burn patches over a 30-year study period. We investigate 34 high-severity wildfire complexes that occurred between 1988 and 1991 in conifer-dominated ecosystems of the northern Rocky Mountains. Composite snow-cover Landsat imagery was utilized to isolate conifer-specific vegetation by diminishing spectral contributions from soil and deciduous vegetation. Conifer regeneration was determined to be detectable by Landsat 11-19 years post-fire across forest types and at >10% canopy cover using snow-cover imagery. The trajectory of snow-cover Landsat NDVI was utilized to project future recovery time to pre-fire conifer vegetation levels for lodgepole pine (29.5 years), Douglas-fir (36.9 years), and fir-spruce forests (48.7 years). The presence of conifer regeneration was then modeled at 3-year intervals post-fire to characterize the progression of recolonization. Conifer recolonization analysis showed that 65% of the total high-severity burn area was reforested after 30 years. Across all high-severity patches, median patch recolonization was 100% within lodgepole pine, 91.1% within Douglas-fir, and 41.3% within fir-spruce. Patch fragmentation occurred across all size classes and forest types, with the majority of the remaining unforested area in Douglas fir (76%), lodgepole pine (61%), and fir-spruce (50%) transitioning to smaller unforested patch size classes. While we identified overall patterns of conifer resilience, high-severity burn patches with lower likelihoods of 30-year conifer recovery had lower edge-densities, drier climates, steeper slopes, higher elevations, and fir-spruce forests. These findings have implications for climate change resilience and may be applied to support forest restoration decision-making following high-severity wildfire. Future analyses should be conducted using snow-cover remote sensing imagery to identify patterns of post-disturbance conifer recovery over a wider spatial and temporal extent.
- ItemOpen AccessFire, fungi, flora, and flow: post-fire fungal community assemblages, vegetation establishment, and soil hydrophobicity in forests of the southern Rocky Mountains(Colorado State University. Libraries, 2023) McNorvell, Michael A., author; Stevens-Rumann, Camille, advisor; Rhoades, Charles, committee member; Remke, Michael, committee member; Wilkins, Michael, committee memberWildfire is an important ecological driver of ecosystem dynamics in the southern Rocky Mountains at multiple landscape scales, guiding establishment of forest biota both aboveground and below. Size, frequency, and severity of wildfires in coniferous forests across the western United States is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Despite wildfire's significant but disparate influences on forest soils, post-fire research has often focused on aboveground vegetation in isolation from study of belowground soil characteristics and the fire ecology of soil biota. Fungi are vital to forest ecosystems for their functional roles, however, the effects of wildfire on forest-specific fungal communities and how those communities subsequently influence post-fire vegetation communities and soil environments has not been extensively researched in the region over the past several decades. This is a prominent knowledge gap, especially as fungi are highly variable across functional groups, space, and time even in unburned systems. Thus, to build on our understanding of contemporary fire ecology in forested ecosystems of the Southern Rockies, we investigate three wildfires that burned in the state of Colorado during the 2020 fire season and address three research objectives: 1) Examine the influence of forest type and fire severity on post-fire fungal community composition across soil depth and temporal gradients; 2) Determine the effects of post-fire fungal community diversity on forest understory plant diversity and abundance; and 3) Explore relationships between fungal assemblages and observed soil hydrophobicity in burned forested environments. We found that though fire severity and soil depth were the primary influences on quantified fungal diversity, the composition of fungal community assemblages was most heavily influenced by forest type: forests developed fungal communities compositionally unique to one another just two years after fire. Diversity of fungi showed significant influence on aboveground plant diversity and abundance, especially mutualistic fungi (ecto- and arbuscular mycorrhizae) and their respective plant hosts. Finally, significant relationships between fungal diversity and soil hydrophobicity were observed mediated by forest type, fire severity, soil depth, and year post-fire, though these patterns were difficult to surmise and the influence of other important variables may be at play. By more fully understanding how soil fungi interact with aboveground vegetation establishment and belowground soil conditions after wildfire, this research may help inform managers of pathways to better achieve desired post-fire outcomes by leveraging fungal relationships in soil remediation, site preparation, and conservation of post-fire forest ecosystems.
- ItemOpen AccessA comparative analysis of wetland and riparian vegetation on Bureau of Land Management land in the western US(Colorado State University. Libraries, 2023) Binck, Elin, author; Sueltenfuss, Jeremy, advisor; Reynolds, Lindsay, committee member; Smith, Melinda, committee member; Havrilla, Caroline, committee memberIn 2011, the BLM deployed its first of three Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) programs as a large-scale, standardized ecological monitoring effort across the agency's land. The first two programs, known as Terrestrial AIM and Lotic AIM, were designed to sample all terrestrial and river ecosystems throughout the landscape. In 2019, the agency piloted its third AIM program, specifically targeting riparian areas and wetlands. This study addressed two main questions: 1) How do wetland and riparian areas sampled with the Terrestrial AIM program compare to those sampled with the Riparian and Wetland (R&W) AIM program, and 2) What are the drivers of plant community composition of the wetlands and riparian areas sampled on BLM land? I developed a set of criteria to identify sites sampled with Terrestrial AIM that had characteristics of wetlands or riparian areas. I then compared vegetation cover, floristic quality metrics, and species composition using nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) to those sites sampled with R&W AIM. R&W AIM sites had much greater foliar cover, hydrophytic species cover, and perennial cover, but Terrestrial sites had slightly higher floristic metric values. I similarly analyzed the R&W sites on their own, incorporating wetland-specific data that is collected with the new program. I found that sites that met the criteria to be classified as wetlands in the Terrestrial data were a distinct population from the sites sampled with R&W AIM. The main drivers of plant community composition among sites sampled with R&W AIM were elevation and the distribution of surface water, but impacts of grazing were also apparent. All sites assessed by both AIM programs had floristic quality metrics characteristic of highly impacted wetland systems. This study indicates the value of the new R&W AIM program for its ability to perform wetland-specific ecological monitoring, provide valuable data on the health of wetlands, and provide baseline condition that can help guide land management practices into the future.
- ItemOpen AccessAssessing post-fire tree regeneration and forest conversion across an elevational gradient in southern Colorado(Colorado State University. Libraries, 2023) Hastings, Amanda K., author; Stevens-Rumann, Camille, advisor; Fornwalt, Paula, committee member; Rocca, Monique, committee memberIncreased wildfire activity, with anticipated novel climate scenarios, raises concerns about forest resilience—particularly in semi-arid regions of the western US. Specifically in southwestern US and Southern Rocky Mountain forests, lack of conifer seed sources and shifts in temperature or precipitation post-wildfire may limit the recruitment of dominant conifer species. Meanwhile, hotter and drier conditions may promote the proliferation of resprouting angiosperm species, resulting in vegetative type conversions. To better understand forest susceptibility to type conversion following wildfire, I assessed early vegetation assembly 3 years post-fire, in sites that burned at low and high severity and spanned a climatic gradient in the Sangre de Cristo range of southern Colorado. Research sites were located in lower montane, upper montane, and subalpine forests, with relative dominances of Pinus ponderosa- Pseudotsuga menziesii; Abies concolor- Pinus contorta- Populus tremuloides; and Abies lasiocarpa- Picea engelmannii- Pinus flexilis- Pinus aristata; respectively. I quantified post-fire tree seedling densities and other site-specific attributes to evaluate a) how do burn severity and forest type influence early post-fire tree regeneration, b) are these forest types undergoing conversions? and c) if so, what factors are driving type-conversion?In this early assessment, I found concerns of forest conversion may be warranted for lower montane forests, with greater abundances of deciduous tree-shrub species, Quercus gambelii and Robinia neomexicana, and high shrub cover. Meanwhile, upper montane forests are likely regenerating to a similar forest composition, with early Populus tremuloides dominance and Pinus contorta regeneration. For both lower and upper montane forest types, conifer regeneration was positively correlated with legacies of low-moderate severity fire, such as overstory cover and litter/woody debris. Meanwhile, subalpine tree regeneration was driven by site-climate and topographic position, regardless of fire severity. In subalpine forests, this study suggests early post-fire conifer regeneration may be dominated by xeric and drought-tolerant species, Pinus flexilis, Pinus aristata, and Pinus contorta, where decades may pass before the establishment of shade-tolerant species characteristic of this forest type. Across all forest types, greater time is required in the post-fire period to predict ultimate recovery trajectories. However, this study serves as one of the first within southern Colorado to evaluate post-fire regeneration across a full elevational gradient and multiple forest types within a single fire footprint.
- ItemOpen AccessForest type and burn severity affect understory response to historic wildfires(Colorado State University. Libraries, 2023) Weimer, Kate, author; Stevens-Rumann, Camille, advisor; Rocca, Monique, committee member; Ocheltree, Troy, committee memberThe fire season of 2020 was unprecedented in the Western US. In one summer, three different fires individually broke the record of Colorado's largest wildfire. Understanding the recovery following these unprecedented events can lend insight into the compounding effects of wildfire and climate change. Reorganization of the understory community after disturbance can indicate changes in conditions not yet reflected in tree communities. Understory dynamics also affect watershed characteristics and wildlife, so knowledge about the influence of wildfire on understory plants is crucial. The purpose of this study is to determine if a trend toward thermophilization is being shown in understory vegetation following 4 different wildfires in 2020 and to compare the relative importance of burn severity, forest type, and other environmental factors on understory community composition. We found a trajectory toward thermophilization in high elevation forests that burned with high severity. We also that drivers of community composition varied by forest type. These findings help assess how wildfire is affecting plant communities in the 21st Century and highlight where future management concerns may be.