The Influence of previous mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) activity on the 1988 Yellowstone fires

Lynch, H.J., Moorcroft, P.R., Crabtree, R.L. and Renkin, R.A.

Ecosystems, Vol. 9 Issue 8 pp. 501-517

2006

We examined the historical record of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) activity within Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, for the 25-years period leading up to the 1988 Yellowstone fires (1963-86) to determine how prior beetle activity and the resulting tree mortality affected the spatial pattern of the 1988 Yellowstone fires. To obtain accurate estimates of our model parameters, we used a Markov chain Monte Carlo method to account for the high degree of spatial autocorrelation inherent to forest fires. Our final model included three statistically significant variables: drought, aspect, and sustained mountain pine beetle activity in the period 1972-75. Of the two major mountain pine beetle outbreaks that preceded the 1988 fires, the earlier outbreak (1972-75) was significantly correlated with the burn pattern, whereas the more recent one (1980-83) was not. Although regional drought and high winds were responsible for the large scale of this event, the analysis indicates that mountain pine beetle activity in the mid-1970s increased the odds of burning in 1988 by 11% over unaffected areas. Although relatively small in magnitude, this effect, combined with the effects of aspect and spatial variation in drought, had a dramatic impact on the spatial pattern of burned and unburned areas in 1988.

Patrick Cross2006