Long Term Persistence of Aspen in Snowdrift-Dependent Ecosystems

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Quaking aspen forests throughout much of the western United States have experienced significant mortality in recent decades, and one cause is moisture deficit. 

In areas where summers are dry and most precipitation arrives during winter as snowfall, snowdrifts are often an important source of soil moisture for aspen groves. Using an integrated modeling technique, researchers forecast how changes in climate, declining snowpack, and competition with Douglas-fir could affect aspen occupancy over the next 85-years. Simulated reductions in snowpack depth caused a reduction in aspen persistence; aspen occupancy and regeneration declined under all climate scenarios. Under a more extreme climate forecast, reduced snow levels could be detrimental to aspen forests, demonstrating the importance of snowdrifts to aspen. Overall results suggest that climate change, rather than competitive stress from conifers, is likely to be a dominant threat to aspen persistence. Authors suggest management techniques that actively promote aspen regeneration, such as reducing ungulate browsing or utilizing fire to promote aspen colonization.

Kretchun, A.M., Scheller, R.M., Shinneman, D.J., Soderquist, B., Maguire, K.C., Link, T.E., Strand, E.K., 2020, Long term persistence of aspen in snowdrift-dependent ecosystems: Forest Ecology and Management, v. 462, p. 118005, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118005

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Date published: November 13, 2017
Status: Active

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