Human activities and expansion have created novel disturbance patterns across Earth’s landscapes. Disturbance is an ecological interruption after which ecosystem recovery or transition into a new state can occur, affecting biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and theavailability of ecosystem services. Fire and herbivory are two of the most widespread forces of disturbance which shape ecosystems globally. In temperate forest ecosystems, fire affects forest composition, which influences the diversity and resilience of ecosystems (chapters 1 and 2) and forest canopy structure, which is important to snowpack accumulation and the availability of water resources (chapters 3 and 4). In chapter one, the effects of conifer competition, which occurs under fire suppression, and ungulate herbivory on aspen regeneration and recruitmentwere examined. It was found that conifer competition, and ungulate herbivory both drastically reduced successful aspen regeneration and recruitment and had a larger effect than climatic or topographical variables. In chapter two, this understanding was used to investigate mechanicaland fire interventions by the National Forest Service in a mixed aspen conifer forest experiencing fire suppression and heavy ungulate herbivory. Untreated forests failed to recruit aspen suckers successfully due to conifer competition and ungulate browsing. Fire treatments were successful in restoring aspen habitat, but mechanical treatments failed due to heavy ungulate use, despitethe treatment eliciting high sucker densities. In chapter three, fire severity was found to have important implications for snowpack accumulation and snow-water content in alpine forests. High burn severity, which is projected to become more common under future climaticconditions, led to deeper and denser snowpack possibly buffering the effects of water loss in a warmer climate. In chapter four, the interaction between topography and vegetation in burned forest conditions was evaluated. It was found that topographical aspect likely mediates the effect of vegetation on snowpack and may have an opposite effect on snow accumulation and melt on north vs south facing aspects. A synthesis of studies from different regions further supports the idea that this relationship between fire and snow is heavily dependent on latitude, elevation, and slope angle. Together, these findings demonstrate that the resilience and persistence of aspenforest ecosystems in changing disturbance regimes depend on complex interactions among disturbance type, disturbance severity, landscape position, and hydrology. These interactions should be integrated into management strategies to protect ecosystems and ensure ecosystemservices for growing human populations in the western United States.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



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disturbance ecology, succession, ecological function, snow, aspen, ungulate herbivory