Year Published: 2016
Description: Future forests are being shaped by changing climate and disturbances. Climate change is causing large-scale forest declines globally, in addition to distributional shifts of many tree species. Because environmental cues dictate insect seasonality and population success, climate change is also influencing tree-killing bark beetles. The mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, is a major disturbance in Pinus forests of the western US. Using a mechanistic, phenology-based demographic model driven by downscaled daily temperature data, we describe recent and future spatial and temporal thermal suitability for mountain pine beetle population growth in a topographically complex region. Trends in model-predicted growth rates among Global Climate Models were similar and suggest that, relative to future trends, mountain pine beetle population growth within the past 60 years was most optimal at middle elevations and least optimal at the lowest and highest elevations. This trend aligns with observed mountain pine beetle-caused tree mortality that was greatest at middle elevations between 1997 and 2013, as estimated from Aerial Detection Surveys. However, thermal suitability for optimal phenological synchrony was predicted to shift in recent years, and by the end of the century, the best thermal habitats for mountain pine beetle will be at the lowest and highest elevations. Mechanistic demographic models are valuable tools for modelling future thermal regimes that may be both beneficial and maladaptive for mountain pine beetle population growth and subsequent tree mortality.