Interactions among fuel management, species composition, bark beetles, and climate change and the potential effects on forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin
Climate-driven increases in wildfires, drought conditions, and insect outbreaks are critical threats to forest carbon stores. In particular, bark beetles are important disturbance agents although their longterm interactions with future climate change are poorly understood. Droughts and the associated moisture deficit contribute to the onset of bark beetle outbreaks although outbreak extent and severity is dependent upon the density of host trees, wildfire, and forest management. Our objective was to estimate the effects of climate change and bark beetle outbreaks on ecosystem carbon dynamics over the next century in a western US forest. Specifically, we hypothesized that (a) bark beetle outbreaks under climate change would reduce net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB) and increase uncertainty and (b) these effects could be ameliorated by fuels management. We also examined the specific tree species dynamics—competition and release— that determined NECB response to bark beetle outbreaks. Our study area was the Lake Tahoe Basin (LTB), CA and NV, USA, an area of diverse forest types encompassing steep elevation and climatic gradients and representative of mixed-conifer forests throughout the western United States. We simulated climate change, bark beetles, wildfire, and fuels management using a landscape-scale stochastic model of disturbance and succession. We simulated the period 2010–2100 using downscaled climate projections. Recurring droughts generated conditions conducive to large-scale outbreaks; the resulting large and sustained outbreaks significantly increased the probability of LTB forests becoming C sources over decadal time scales, with slower-than-anticipated landscape-scale recovery. Tree species composition was substantially altered with a reduction in functional redundancy and productivity. Results indicate heightened uncertainty due to the synergistic influences of climate change and interacting disturbances. Our results further indicate that current fuel management practices will not be effective at reducing landscape-scale outbreak mortality. Our results provide critical insights into the interaction of drivers (bark beetles, wildfire, fuel management) that increase the risk of C loss and shifting community composition if bark beetle outbreaks become more frequent.