Regeneration potential following tree die-off in dryland forests and woodlands

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Miranda D. Redmond

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Dryland ecosystems across the western US are currently experiencing warmer temperatures coupled with climate-driven increases in disturbance. This may result in biome‐level vegetation shifts to alternate vegetation types if there is a failure of trees to regenerate. Restoring these ecosystems in the aftermath of these large-scale disturbance events requires identifying locations where landscape conversions are likely as well as the population bottlenecks limiting regeneration. Here we present results from studies assessing where regeneration failure has occurred across broad physiographic gradients among populations of piñon pine (Pinus edulis), a widespread dryland conifer in the U.S. Southwest. In addition, we assess how various population processes, specifically seed cone production, seedling establishment, and juvenile survival vary across this broad physiographic gradient to identify population bottlenecks. Our results suggest that regeneration failure is more likely in areas with hotter and drier climatic conditions: piñon pine seed cone production, seedling establishment, and juvenile survival were all strongly affected by physiographic factors that increase tree water stress. Establishment and survival were also highly dependent upon overstory trees and shrubs for providing favorable microsites, particularly in areas with greater grass cover, suggesting that seeding and planting efforts will have the greatest likelihood of success beneath nurse shrubs and trees. Following recent disturbance events such as drought-induced tree mortality, regeneration failure is likely to occur in areas without sufficient remaining overstory tree or shrub cover, especially at locations with high grass cover and hotter and drier climatic conditions.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program