But whether the shift will bring in more fire-resistant, drought-tolerant forests isn’t clear.
“We’re not seeing the forest replenishing itself with the same species, especially of lodgepole pine,” which has been hit hard by the beetle epidemic, said Teresa Chapman, a University of Colorado Boulder doctoral student who is doing research on forest regeneration and future forest predictions. “We are not seeing a lot of regeneration, either in the high elevations or in the low elevations where there have been fires.”
The seedlings are in competition with abundant woody shrubs, grass and ground cover.
So Chapman predicts a shift from lodgepole pine to aspen, as well as subalpine fir, depending on the location.
But while aspen is fire-resilient, it’s not particularly drought-tolerant. And while the subalpine fir is shade-tolerant, it’s neither drought-tolerant nor fire-resilient, Chapman said.
“We see a new forest,” Chapman said. “Pine is pretty drought-tolerant. It loves the sun. So when we replace that forest with an alpine fir forest, we might have a more drought-susceptible and less fire-resilient forest. And those are the two major disturbances we can expect in the next 50 years.”
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