Western Spruce Budworm Effects on Forest Resilience

Adam D. Polinko, Marguerite A. Rapp, Andrew J. Sánchez Meador, Andrew D. Graves, Daniel E. Ryerson, Kristen M. Waring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Western spruce budworm (Choristoneura freemani Razowski) is the most destructive defoliator of forests in the western US. Forests in northern New Mexico experienced high levels of WSBW-caused defoliation and subsequent mortality between the 1980s and 2010s. The effects of severe western spruce budworm outbreaks on stand dynamics in the US Southwest are still relatively unknown, but understanding the impacts is important to the management and resilience of these forests. To begin addressing this knowledge gap, we conducted a study along two gradients: an elevational gradient from mixed-conifer to spruce-fir forests and a gradient of WSBW-caused defoliation intensity. We recorded overstory and understory stand conditions (size structure, species composition, damaging agents). Western spruce budworm was the primary damaging agent of host trees in all stands andcaused host tree mortality across all size classes, particularly in spruce-fir stands. Results indicate an unsustainable level of mortality in spruce-fir stands and a transition towards non-host species in mixed-conifer stands. Low levels of regeneration coupled with high overstory mortality rates indicate a potential lack of resilience in spruce-fir stands, whereas resilience to future western spruce budworm defoliation events may have increased in mixed-conifer stands affected by these outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3266
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • insect defoliation
  • resilience
  • species composition
  • tree mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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