Understanding the impacts of climate change is critical for improving the conservation and management of ecosystems worldwide. Ecosystems vary along a precipitation and temperature gradient, ranging from tropical jungles to arid deserts. The Great Basin is a semi-arid eco-region that is found within the western United States. Plant communities within the Great Basin range from sagebrush valleys to sub-alpine conifer forests found at high elevation areas. It is predicted that the Great Basin will experience prolonged periods of drought, more intense fires, and greater variability in average annual and monthly precipitation, all in response to changes in climate patterns. At the lower elevations, sagebrush communities are expected to experience less suitable habitat conditions, however, less is understood about vegetation response at upper elevations. Understanding forest composition and structure at these upper elevations within the Great Basin will help us better understand potential impacts from climate change. In chapter 1, we characterized Pinus longaeva (Great Basin bristlecone pine D.K. Bailey) forest structure and composition. We mapped this tree species distribution and characterized forest structure and composition using a sampling protocol that included both biophysical variables and individual tree characteristics. We collected data from 69 mixed and homogenous P. longaeva stands found within the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. Results suggest that P. longaeva forest structure and composition exhibit high structural variability in tree characteristic measurements like density, basal area, growth rate, age, and in biophysical variables such as substrate type, slope, aspect, elevation, average monthly temperature and precipitation, latitude, and longitude. This study also found that variability in forest composition and structure in P. longaeva forests allows for greater flexibility in the breadth of life-history strategies and probable resiliency to climate change. In chapter 2 we used remote sensing images with high spatial resolution to identify 685 unique P. longaeva stands on 42 mountain ranges. Pinus longaeva was found on the White Mountains on the western edge of the Great Basin to the Colorado Plateau's Henry Mountain and West Tavaputs Plateau in the East, and from the Spring Mountains in the South to the Ruby and Spruce Mountains in the North. Stands covered 113,886 ha across the geographic distribution. A comparison between our maps and those produced by David Charlet found a total of 36% overlap of P. longaeva. We mapped 58 unique stands that the control dataset lacked and 11 stands that we did not include. We believe that this is the most comprehensive P. longaeva distribution map created to date.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



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Great Basin bristlecone pine, forest ecology, community structure, indicator species, tree growth rate, life-history strategy, Shannon's Diversity Index