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Biogeochemistry of beetle-killed forests: Explaining a weak nitrate response

January 14, 2013

A current pine beetle infestation has caused extensive mortality of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in forests of Colorado and Wyoming; it is part of an unprecedented multispecies beetle outbreak extending from Mexico to Canada. In United States and European watersheds, where atmospheric deposition of inorganic N is moderate to low (<10 kg⋅ha⋅y), disturbance of forests by timber harvest or violent storms causes an increase in stream nitrate concentration that typically is close to 400% of predisturbance concentrations. In contrast, no significant increase in streamwater nitrate concentrations has occurred following extensive tree mortality caused by the mountain pine beetle in Colorado. A model of nitrate release from Colorado watersheds calibrated with field data indicates that stimulation of nitrate uptake by vegetation components unaffected by beetles accounts for significant nitrate retention in beetle-infested watersheds. The combination of low atmospheric N deposition (<10 kg⋅ha⋅y), tree mortality spread over multiple years, and high compensatory capacity associated with undisturbed residual vegetation and soils explains the ability of these beetle-infested watersheds to retain nitrate despite catastrophic mortality of the dominant canopy tree species.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2013
Title Biogeochemistry of beetle-killed forests: Explaining a weak nitrate response
DOI 10.1073/pnas.1221029110
Authors Charles C. Rhoades, James H. Jr McCutchan, Leigh A. Cooper, David W. Clow, Thomas M. Detmer, Jennifer S. Briggs, John D. Stednick, Thomas T. Veblen, Rachel M. Ertz, Gene E. Likens, William M. Jr Lewis
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PNAS
Index ID 70204833
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Colorado Water Science Center

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