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Landscape ecology

Science Spotlights

Photo of a forest fire
The 20th Century was a period of enormous change for western forests. Fire used to maintain distinct forest vegetation communities – pine, dry mixed-conifer, mesic mixed-conifer, and spruce-fir – in close proximity to one another along steep vertical gradients in the topographically diverse forests of the American Southwest. How did these forests change in response to fire exclusion? In what ways and how rapidly? What are the consequences of...
A closeup shot of a lynx face
The management of Canada lynx habitat is an issue that has generated much debate and litigation across the Northern (Montana, Idaho) and Southern (Colorado, Wyoming) Rocky Mountains. This species depends almost exclusively on snowshoe hare for food during winter, and this prey species is sensitive to changes in forest composition and structure. Research conducted by scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, in collaboration with...
Whitebark pine sapling, Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, Salmon-Challis National Forest, Idaho
Forest inventory data show that more than half of all standing whitebark pine trees in the U.S. are dead. Regeneration of whitebark pine is widespread, especially in lodgepole pine stands, which suggests that active management of whitebark pine should target mixed-species stands to take advantage of natural regeneration. 
A prescribed fire burning through Pinus monophylla and Juniperus osteosperma in the Great Basin Piñon-Juniper Woodland of the Southern Intermountain geographic region. (Photo by Jeanne Chambers, RMRS.)
Changes in fire patterns for piñon and juniper vegetation in the western United States were analyzed over a 30-year period. This is the first evaluation of its type.
Picture shows high-severity (stand-replacing) fire effects on the 2002 Hayman Fire, Colorado. Photo credit: NIFC.
Dry conifer forests in the Western United States historically had low impact surface fires approximately every five to 30 years. Due to more than 100 years of successful fire exclusion, however, many of these forests are now denser, and therefore have a greater probability of experiencing intense fires that burn entire stands and convert forests to non-forest landscapes. What environmental conditions are necessary to promote low-severity fire in...
decorative image of native american artifacts
This research looks at opportunities to utilize traditional phenological knowledge to support adaptive management of social-ecological systems vulnerable to changes in climate and fire regimes. Integrating phenological knowledge into natural resource stewardship is important in making land management decisions. Indigenous knowledge of seasonal change adds a broader ecological knowledge base in the context of changing and vulnerable social and...
High-severity wildfires are increasing and researchers are issuing different findings regarding wildfire impacts on spotted owls (Strix occidentalis), a threatened species that nests in mature, western forests with large trees and high canopy cover. Data from different studies show mixed responses of spotted owls to fire, but suggest that the effects of high-severity wildfires could be significant throughout the range of all three subspecies....
This large Douglas-fir died in 2012 and is surrounded by many smaller Douglas-fir, white fir, and Southwestern white pine that recruited during fire exclusion.  Stand density in mesic mixed conifer forests increased on average 1725% during fire exclusion.
The onset of fire exclusion in western North American forests in the late 1800s began one of the largest unintended landscape ecology experiments in human history. The current ecology of these forests and the ecological impacts of returning fire to these forests is strongly influenced by the amount of forest change that has occurred during the fire-free period. Understanding how different forest types responded to fire exclusion is important for...
Final resistance map depicting the combined effects of topographical roughness, slope position, land cover and human footprint on resistance to tiger gene flow in Central India.
The Bengal tiger is the world’s largest feline, which has suffered immense declines in range and population. Today, less than 10 percent of the tiger's original range is occupied with a global population of less than 7000 individuals in the wild. Understanding the factors that drive local abundance and population connectivity are critical for the conservation of this species.  
White pine blister rust on southwestern white pine
Collaborative research is quantifying adaptive variation in tree species, specifically in southwestern white pine, across the western United States. This research predicts changes in species distribution and their ability to adapt in the face of global change by combining population-wide genomic data collection, common garden manipulative experiments, pathogen resistance trials, and simulation modeling.

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