Aspen is a key resource in the Rocky Mountain Region for wildlife forage and habitat, lumber products, scenery, and plays important roles in fire ecology and hydrological processes. There is evidence of aspen decline over much of the Intermountain West for approximately 100 years. In Dixie and Fishlake National Forests, UT, aspen distribution has decreased by nearly half. Causes of this decline are not well understood, although wildlife browsing by ungulates has been implicated as playing a major role. The objective of this research was to examine what soil or plant factors might be involved in wildlife browse choice in aspen. Twenty-two pairs of moderately and intensively browsed sites were studied to identify factors related to browse preferences over two field seasons. In the summer of 2008, sites were sampled in June, July, and August, and in the summer of 2009 sites were sampled in August only. Soils were analyzed for pH, EC, total nitrogen and carbon, and mineral nutrients. Leaf tissue samples were analyzed for defense chemical (tannin and phenolic glycoside) concentrations, mineral nutrients (via acid digestion), acid-detergent fiber, water content, carbon:nitrogen ratio, and non-structural carbohydrate (sugar) concentration. No significant difference in phenolic glycoside concentrations between moderately and intensively browsed sites was found. Tannins were highest in sites with intensive levels of browsing. Iron was significantly higher and zinc lower in intensively than moderately browsed sites. Leaf moisture was also significantly lower in intensively browsed sites. In the absence of differences in phenolic glycosides, ungulates may be selecting browse sites based on iron requirements. Seasonal changes in the studied factors could be identified in 2008. Over the course of the summer, we found significant decreases in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, phenolic glycosides, and moisture concentration. Seasonal increases in calcium, sodium, tannins, sugars, acid-detergent fiber, and carbon:nitrogen ratios were observed. The need for large ungulates to obtain specific nutrients may indicate that aspen is in higher demand as a forage at different times of the year, particularly in areas with forages low in these nutrients. Our data suggest that aspen high in iron may be at risk since other factors explaining browsing choice were not significantly different in our study. This information can help identify clones that are at risk and direct resources where and when they are needed most.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



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aspen, aspen decline, browse pressure, defense chemistry, foraging, ungulates, nutrients, Populus tremuloides, Rocky Mountains, Utah