From 1989 to 2003, a widespread outbreak of spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis) in the Copper River Basin, Alaska, infested over 275,000 ha of forests in the region. During 1997 and 1998, we measured forest vegetation structure and composition on one hundred and thirty-six 20-m ?? 20-m plots to assess both the immediate stand and landscape level effects of the spruce beetle infestation. A photo-interpreted vegetation and infestation map was produced using color-infrared aerial photography at a scale of 1:40,000. We used linear regression to quantify the effects of the outbreak on forest structure and composition. White spruce (Picea glauca) canopy cover and basal area of medium-to-large trees [???15 cm diameter-at-breast height (1.3 m, dbh)] were reduced linearly as the number of trees attacked by spruce beetles increased. Black spruce (Picea mariana) and small diameter white spruce (<15 cm dbh) were infrequently attacked and killed by spruce beetles. This selective attack of mature white spruce reduced structural complexity of stands to earlier stages of succession and caused mixed tree species stands to lose their white spruce and become more homogeneous in overstory composition. Using the resulting regressions, we developed a transition matrix to describe changes in vegetation types under varying levels of spruce beetle infestations, and applied the model to the vegetation map. Prior to the outbreak, our study area was composed primarily of stands of mixed white and black spruce (29% of area) and pure white spruce (25%). However, the selective attack on white spruce caused many of these stands to transition to black spruce dominated stands (73% increase in area) or shrublands (26% increase in area). The post-infestation landscape was thereby composed of more even distributions of shrubland and white, black, and mixed spruce communities (17-22% of study area). Changes in the cover and composition of understory vegetation were less evident in this study. However, stands with the highest mortality due to spruce beetles had the lowest densities of white spruce seedlings suggesting a longer forest regeneration time without an increase in seedling germination, growth, or survival. ?? 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Stand and landscape level effects of a major outbreak of spruce beetles on forest vegetation in the Copper River Basin, Alaska