Are treeline habitats a refuge from mountain pine beetle for whitebark pine?

PhD student awarded grant for Whitebark Pine ResearchMISSOULA – UM PhD student Colin Maher was recently awarded a competitive grant from the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation for his research on whitebark pine tree survival at high elevation.

Maher is studying with professors Andrew Larson and Cara Nelson at the College of Forestry and Conservation and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Maher is looking at how the krummholz form of whitebark pine trees – the smaller, more shrub-like version of the tree that grows at treeline elevation – might be more resistant to mountain pine beetle attack than other forms of the tree.

“Other researchers have speculated that the krummholz form is immune to mountain pine beetle attack,” says Maher, “but this research will be the first to investigate that claim.” The grant will support his research travel as he samples whitebark pine along treeline habitats.

Recent outbreaks of mountain pine beetle have caused drastic declines in numbers of whitebark pine throughout the western United States. Maher will investigate the role that the treeline may play in mediating the impacts of beetle outbreaks.

Photo: Mountain pine beetle caused mortality gradient at treeline in the Tobacco Root Mountains. Photo by Colin Maher.