Landscape-scale patterns of forest pest and pathogen damage in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Hatala, J.A., Crabtree, R.L., Halligan, K.Q., Moorcroft, P.R

Remote Sensing of Environment, Vol 114 Issue 2 pp. 375-384


Pathogen and pest outbreaks are recognized as key processes in the dynamics of Western forest ecosystems, yet the spatial patterns of stress and mortality are often complex and difficult to describe in an explicit spatial context, especially when considering the concurrent effects of multiple agents. Blister rust, a fungal pathogen, and mountain pine beetle, an insect pest, are two dominant sources of stress and mortality to high-altitude whitebark pine within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). In whitebark pine populations infested with blister rust or mountain pine beetle, the shift from green to red needles at the outer-most branches is an early sign of stress and infestation. In this analysis, we investigated a method that combines field surveys with a remote sensing classification and spatial analysis to differentiate the effects of these two agents of stress and mortality within whitebark pine. Hyperspectral remotely sensed images from the airborne HyMap sensor were classified to determine the locations of stress and mortality in whitebark pine crowns through sub-pixel mixture-tuned matched-filter analysis in three areas of the GYE in September 2000 and July 2006. Differences in the spatial pattern of blister rust and mountain pine beetle infestation allowed us to separate areas dominated by mountain pine beetle versus blister rust by examining changes in the spatial scale of significant stress and mortality clusters computed by the Ripley's K algorithm. At two field sites the distance between clusters of whitebark pine stress and mortality decreased from 2000 to 2006, indicating domination by the patchy spatial pattern of blister rust infestation. At another site, the distance between significant stress and mortality clusters increased from 2000 to 2006, indicating that the contiguous pattern of mountain pine beetle infestation was the primary source of disturbance. Analysis of these spatial stress and mortality patterns derived from remote sensing yields insight to the relative importance of blister rust and mountain pine beetle dynamics in the landscape.

Patrick Cross2009