Large infrequent disturbances such as mountain pine beetle outbreaks shape the spatial pattern of landscapes, but can also affect the processes of concurrent or subsequent disturbances. I am particularly interested in the ecological affects of simultaneously interacting disturbances. A disturbance pairing threatening the declining tree species, whitebark pine, is the mountain pine beetle, a native insect, and white pine blister rust, an exotic fungal pathogen. Whitebark pine is a high elevation keystone species that supports over 100 animal species, including its mutualist, the Clark's Nutcracker, and grizzly bears (which were recently re-listed as an endangered species partially because of the decline of whitebark pine). My field-based thesis project, "The effects of tree host species and blister rust on mountain pine beetle productivity" addresses two questions: 1) Are mountain pine beetles more productive in whitebark pine than in lodgepole pine? and 2) Does blister rust infection severity in whitebark pines affect the productivity of mountain pine beetles attacking those trees? I view the second question concerning blister rust and mountain pine beetles as a great system to study the ecological effects of simultaneous disturbances on a single species. Because of the increased likelihood of disturbances –such as insect outbreak and fires-- with climate change, it is likely that interacting disturbance will become more common. Consequently, it is important to understand what kinds of ecological feedbacks are possible with interacting disturbances. When I graduate, I would like to continue with studies on whitebark pine and/or mountain pine beetles, coordinate whitebark pine restoration efforts, and/or work in silviculture in the context of forest health.
Society of American Foresters Website, great source of info for forestry related news