Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva D.K. Bailey) is a keystone species of the subalpine forest in the Great Basin and western Colorado Plateau ecoregions in Utah, Nevada, and California. Bristlecone pine is also the world's longest-lived non-clonal organism, with individuals occasionally reaching ages up to 5,000 years old. Because of its longevity, bristlecone pine contains an important proxy record of climate data in its growth rings. Despite its ecological and scientific importance, bristlecone pine's distribution and associated environmental drivers are poorly understood. Geospatial technologies, including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and spatial modeling techniques can be used to quantify and characterize biotic and abiotic factors that constrain the fundamental and realized niches of bristlecone pine and other subalpine forest species. In Chapter 1, we describe workflows and important technical and logistical considerations for collecting aerial imagery in mountainous areas using small UAS, enabling high-quality remotely sensed datasets to be assembled to study the ecology of subalpine forests. In Chapter 2, we discuss a unique outlier population of bristlecone pine found in the Stansbury Mountains, Utah. We used GIS to delineate boundaries for five small stands of bristlecone pine and examined two competing hypotheses that could explain the species' presence in the range: 1) that the current population is a relict from the Pleistocene, or 2) that long-distance dispersal mechanisms led to bristlecone pine's migration from other mountain ranges during or after the warming period of the Pleistocene/Holocene transition. Potential migration routes and barriers to migration were considered in our effort to understand the dynamics behind the presence of this unique disjunct population of bristlecone pine. Chapter 3 describes a comprehensive mapping effort for bristlecone pine across its entire distribution. Using data from historic maps, vegetation surveys, herbarium records, and an online ecological database, we compiled nearly 500 individual map polygons in a public-facing online GIS database representing locations where bristlecone pine occurs. Using these occurrence data, we modeled the suitable habitat of the species with Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt), examining the relative importance of 60 environmental variables in constraining the species distribution. A probability map was generated for bristlecone pine, and the environmental variables were ranked in order of their predictive power in explaining the species distribution. We found that January mean dewpoint temperature and February precipitation explained over 80% of the species distribution according to the MaxEnt model, suggesting that the species favors drier air conditions and increased snowfall during winter months. These three studies demonstrate that geospatial tools can be effectively used to quantify and characterize the habitat of bristlecone pine, leading to improved management and conservation of the species in the face of multiple threats, including mountain pine beetle (MPB), white pine blister rust (WPBR), and possible habitat constriction due to climate change.



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Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



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Great Basin bristlecone pine, spatial ecology, UAS, MaxEnt, GIS, Pinus



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Life Sciences Commons