Western Spruce Budworm, Climate, and Forest Fire Interactions in the Interior Pacific Northwest: A Multi-Century Dendrochronological Analysis
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I assessed the relationship between natural disturbances and climate in Douglas-fir forests in western North America. I quantified synchrony within disturbance types, explored the potential for synergism between disturbance types, and analyzed changes in disturbance dynamics that have occurred following Euro-American settlement of western North America. I used new and previously published dendrochronological reconstructions of disturbance histories and climatic variability to explore these complex interactions at multiple spatial scales over the last three centuries. I used dendroentomological methods to reconstruct western spruce budworm outbreaks at thirteen sites along a transect running from central Oregon to western Montana. These forests experienced repeated, often decadal-length western spruce budworm outbreaks over the last three centuries. I compared my records with previously published outbreak reconstructions and found widespread synchrony of outbreaks at stand-level, regional, and sub-continental scales. At ten of my sites, I also reconstructed or obtained previously published reconstructions of fire dates. I compared these disturbance histories with dendroclimatological drought records to quantify the influence of moisture availability on disturbances. I found that fires were more likely to occur during drought years, while western spruce budworm outbreaks were most likely to begin near the end of droughts. After approximately 1890, fires were largely absent from these sites and western spruce budworm outbreaks became longer-lasting, more frequent, and more synchronous, likely due to land-use induced changes in the structure and composition of forests. My results show no discernible impact of defoliation events on subsequent fire risk. Any effect from the addition of fine and coarse fuels during defoliation events was too small to detect given the overriding influence of climatic variability. If there is any relationship between the two disturbances, it is a subtle synergistic relationship wherein each disturbance type dampens the severity but does not alter the probability of occurrence of the other disturbance type over long time scales. This dissertation includes unpublished co-authored material.