Prescribed fire effects on bark beetle activity and tree mortality in southwestern ponderosa pine forests

C. R. Breece, T. E. Kolb, B. G. Dickson, J. D. McMillin, K. M. Clancy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Prescribed fire is an important tool in the management of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex Laws.) forests, yet effects on bark beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) activity and tree mortality are poorly understood in the southwestern U.S. We compared bark beetle attacks and tree mortality between paired prescribed-burned and unburned stands at each of four sites in Arizona and New Mexico for three growing seasons after burning (2004-2006). Prescribed burns increased bark beetle attacks on ponderosa pine over the first three post-fire years from 1.5 to 13% of all trees, increased successful, lethal attacks on ponderosa pine from 0.4 to 7.6%, increased mortality of ponderosa pine from all causes from 0.6 to 8.4%, and increased mortality of all tree species with diameter at breast height >13 cm from 0.6 to 9.6%. On a per year basis, prescribed burns increased ponderosa pine mortality from 0.2% per year in unburned stands to 2.8% per year in burned stands. Mortality of ponderosa pine 3 years after burning was best described by a logistic regression model with total crown damage (crown scorch + crown consumption) and bark beetle attack rating (no, partial, or mass attack by bark beetles) as independent variables. Attacks by Dendroctonus spp. did not differ significantly over bole heights, whereas attacks by Ips spp. were greater on the upper bole compared with the lower bole. Three previously published logistic regression models of tree mortality, developed from fires in 1995-1996 in northern Arizona, were moderately successful in predicting broad patterns of tree mortality in our data. The influence of bark beetle attack rating on tree mortality was stronger for our data than for data from the 1995-1996 fires. Our results highlight canopy damage from fire as a strong and consistent predictor of post-fire mortality of ponderosa pine, and bark beetle attacks and bole char rating as less consistent predictors because of temporal variability in their relationship to mortality. The small increase in tree mortality and bark beetle attacks caused by prescribed burning should be acceptable to many forest managers and the public given the resulting reduction in surface fuel and risk of severe wildfire.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-128
Number of pages10
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 20 2008


  • Arizona
  • Crown damage
  • Dendroctonus
  • Insect attack
  • Ips
  • Logistic regression
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • Prescribed fire
  • Tree mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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