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Caribou in the cross-fire? Considering terrestrial lichen forage in the face of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) expansion

Citation

Nobert BR, Larsen TA, Pigeon KE, Finnegan L (2020). "Caribou in the cross-fire? Considering terrestrial lichen forage in the face of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) expansion." PLoS ONE 15(4): e0232248. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232248

Abstract

Mountain pine beetle (MPB) has become an invasive forest pest of mature pine in western North America as it spreads beyond its former endemic range. Management actions such as timber harvest can reduce the spread of MPB but may affect species of conservation concern like woodland caribou. Our goal was to inform MPB management within caribou ranges by exploring the impacts of MPB on caribou habitat–focusing on terrestrial lichens, an important winter food for caribou. We evaluated differences in lichen cover among four MPB management actions: timber harvest, wildfires, leaving MPB killed trees as-is, and single-tree cut-and-burn control. We found little evidence that leaving MPB killed trees as-is or controlling MPB using single-tree cut-and-burn impacted lichen cover. However, we found that lichen cover was lower in timber harvested and burned areas compared to intact undisturbed forest but only 10 to 20 years post-disturbance, respectively. Our results suggest that despite short-term reductions in lichen cover, using timber harvesting and prescribed burns to control MPB may balance management needs for MPB while maintaining lichen cover over time. However, using timber harvesting and prescribed burns to manage MPB is likely to have detrimental population-level effects on caribou by increasing the proportion of disturbed habitat and thus predators within caribou ranges. Among the four management actions that we evaluated, the cut-and-burn control program balances the need to limit the spread of MPB while also limiting negative impacts on caribou food. Our work addresses some of the challenges of managing competing forest and ecosystem values by evaluating the consequence of forest pest management actions on an important food resource for a species-at-risk.

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