Fine-scale Spruce Mortality Dynamics Driven by Bark Beetle Disturbance in Babia Góra National Park, Poland

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Bark beetle, Spruce forests, Mortality, Microhabitat, Spatial synchrony

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College of Natual Science and Mathematics, Biological Sciences


Bark beetle outbreaks have had major impacts on Norway spruce forests in Europe. The large majority of these forests are located in areas under forest management; thus, few studies have investigated outbreak-driven spruce mortality patterns unaffected by humans. Our study examined spruce mortality resultant from a beetle outbreak in a high-elevation, unmanaged forest over a 17-year span. We analyzed three tree-level survivorship and DBH datasets collected during pre-, mid-, and post-outbreak conditions to evaluate long-term mortality dynamics. We measured changes in mortality severity, topographic and stand structure characteristics, and stand complexity using ANOVAs, and we assessed five topographic and stand structure mortality predictors by employing boosted regression trees. Our results showed that though spruce mortality increased significantly over time, such increases were disproportionate with spatial synchrony. Moreover, the outbreak did not significantly alter the living stand structure and had little effect on stand complexity, exhibiting the effects of an outbreak that spread throughout the forest without causing major stand-level damage. Larger trees at higher elevations on south-facing slopes were targeted most frequently, particularly during the later stages of the outbreak. Aspect, elevation, and slope were the best predictors of mortality, demonstrating moderate forecasting ability. We showed that bark beetle outbreaks can operate on patch-scale gradients, affecting microhabitat conditions, without resulting in sweeping, stand-altering mortality. Small-scale outbreaks may increase forest resilience against more severe outbreaks in the future by creating canopy gaps that facilitate regeneration, which leads to more complex age and size structures within the stand.

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