A spatiotemporal analysis of climate change in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its effects on Pinus albicaulis
Climate change is arguably the biggest challenge facing humanity. Successful mitigation and adaption planning vitally requires more science in regard to its impacts on ecological systems. To address knowledge gaps regarding climate change impacts within the regional level, I performed a series of analyses on an "early responder" species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and examine how its distribution may be impacted by biotic and abiotic factors. My research aids in decision making processes for regional land managers that must address climate change in their policy decisions and increases ecological understanding at a landscape level. This manuscript includes a detailed analysis of past, present, and projected climate in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I addressed the expected impacts of present and future climate shifts on the distribution of the sub-alpine tree species, whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) and its main disturbance agent, mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae). This research found a major reduction of suitable climate habitat for P.albicaulis within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem under multiple Global Circulation Models and Representative Concentration Pathway futures. Finally, this research determined that the recent D.ponderosae outbreak driven by climate effects in 2000-2010, that resulted in an unprecedented mortality event on P.albicaulis was more than double the risk area size of any previous outbreak since 1951. Although more studies are necessary to reduce uncertainty and make assertive recommendations for management actions, this research suggests that future sub-alpine stand structure and composition may be radically different than anything in recent history due to range shifts of suitable climate habitat and disturbance agents, and advocates for land managers to apply a multifaceted approach of competitor thinning and controlled burning to ensure the resilience and persistence of P.albicaulis.