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Landscape ecology

Science Spotlights

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.
Example of a forest structure suitable for northern goshawks and producing high quality timber
Wildlife habitat and timber production are critical elements of the management of many National Forests. The Black Hills National Forest has provided a thriving timber economy for over 100 years. The forest also provides habitat for the northern goshawk, which has been severely impacted by mountain pine beetles. 
The Mexican spotted owl is listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act and is vulnerable to habitat loss from wildfire and climate change. RMRS scientists are leading a cutting-edge modeling effort to predict the interactive effects of forest restoration, wildfire, and climate change on the distribution, population size, and population connectivity of Mexican spotted owl across the Southwestern United States.  
Figure 1Map of Borneo showing areas of forest loss between 2000 and 2010 in yellow, areas of forest persistence from 2000 to 2010 in green, and areas that were not forest in 2000 in black.
A collaborative team, led by RMRS Research Ecologist Samuel Cushman, has produced a substantial breakthrough in advancing predictive modeling of drivers and patterns of deforestation. The method combines multi-scale optimization with machine-learning predictive modeling to identify the drivers of deforestation and map relative future deforestation risk.  
Figure 1. A post-fire ponderosa pine seedling in a high-severity burn patch of the 2000 Pumpkin Fire, Arizona.
Over the past three decades, wildfires in southwestern United States ponderosa pine forests have increased in size and severity, leaving large patches of tree mortality. Ponderosa pine evolved under fire regimes dominated by low- to moderate-severity wildfires, and they are poorly adapted to regenerating in large patches of high-severity fire. There is concern about these high-severity burn patches because the lack of seed-producing trees can...
A Clark’s nutcracker harvesting seed from whitebark pine cones. Photo courtesy of Diana Tomback
Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests are declining across most of their range in North America because of the combined effects of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreaks, fire exclusion policies, and the exotic pathogen Cronartium ribicola, which infects five-needle white pines and causes the disease white pine blister rust. Predicted changes in climate may exacerbate whitebark pine decline by (1) accelerating succession to...
Despite widespread and severe mortality, many acres of healthy conifer and hardwood forest remain in Colorado. Photo by J.D. Shaw
The current inventory of Colorado’s forest is the first to use the complete set of Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plots across all ownerships and forest types. The inventory was completed at a time when Colorado forests were undergoing substantial change, primarily in the form of insect infestations in pine and spruce, but also because of drought. This report captures the current status and recent trends.  

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