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Historic range of variability in landscape structure in subalpine forests of the Greater Yellowstone Area, USA

January 1, 2003

A measure of the historic range of variability (HRV) in landscape structure is essential for evaluating current landscape patterns of Rocky Mountain coniferous forests that have been subjected to intensive timber harvest. We used a geographic information system (GIS) and FRAGSTATS to calculate key landscape metrics on two ???130,000-ha landscapes in the Greater Yellowstone Area, USA: one in Yellowstone National Park (YNP), which has been primarily shaped by natural fires, and a second in the adjacent Targhee National Forest (TNF), which has undergone intensive clearcutting for nearly 30 years. Digital maps of the current and historical landscape in YNP were developed from earlier stand age maps developed by Romme and Despain. Maps of the TNF landscape were adapted from United States Forest Service Resource Information System (RIS) data. Key landscape metrics were calculated at 20-yr intervals for YNP for the period from 1705-1995. These metrics were used to first evaluate the relative effects of small vs. large fire events on landscape structure and were then compared to similar metrics calculated for both pre- and post-harvest landscapes of the TNF. Large fires, such as those that burned in 1988, produced a structurally different landscape than did previous, smaller fires (1705-1985). The total number of patches of all types was higher after 1988 (694 vs. 340-404 before 1988), and mean patch size was reduced by almost half (186 ha vs. 319-379 ha). The amount of unburned forest was less following the 1988 fires (63% vs. 72-90% prior to 1988), yet the number of unburned patches increased by nearly an order of magnitude (230 vs. a maximum of 41 prior to 1988). Total core area and mean core area per patch decreased after 1988 relative to smaller fires (???73,700 ha vs. 87,000-110,000 ha, and 320 ha vs. 2,123 ha, respectively). Notably, only edge density was similar (17 m ha-1 after 1988) to earlier landscapes (9.8-14.2 m ha-1). Three decades of timber harvesting dramatically altered landscape structure in the TNF. Total number of patches increased threefold (1,481 after harvest vs. 437 before harvest), and mean patch size decreased by ???70% (91.3 ha vs. 309 ha). None of the post-harvest landscape metrics calculated for the TNF fell within the HRV as defined in YNP, even when the post-1988 landscape was considered. In contrast, pre-harvest TNF landscape metrics were all within, or very nearly within, the HRV for YNP While reference conditions such as those identified by this study are useful for local and regional landscape evaluation and planning, additional research is necessary to understand the consequences of changes in landscape structure for population, community, ecosystem, and landscape function.

Publication Year 2003
Title Historic range of variability in landscape structure in subalpine forests of the Greater Yellowstone Area, USA
DOI 10.1023/A:1026156900092
Authors D.B. Tinker, W.H. Romme, Don G. Despain
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Landscape Ecology
Index ID 70024874
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse