08 Sep Biological Resources Assistant RA-DHA – Mosaics In Science
Whitebark pine, Pinus albicaulis, is a critically important tree species in subalpine and alpine western ecosystems and a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. This pine is threatened by an introduced fungus, white pine blister rust, Cronartium ribicola, that has led to widespread mortality in the Pacific Northwest in the 100 years since its introduction. The species is also threatened by habitat fragmentation, changes in land management, and accelerating climate change.
In the National Park units in the North Coast and Cascades Inventory & Monitoring Network (NCCN), there are some reported differences between parks in distribution patterns, genetic population structure, resistance to rust and vulnerability to climate change. However most whitebark distribution maps are from the early 20th century and have not been updated to account for high rates of mortality. Modern, stand-specific estimates of disease impacts are from plots based upon these older maps. Understanding the current whitebark distribution and the incidence and severity of rust in each unit in the network is critical for long-term planning, including restoration needs, environmental compliance, and response to large-scale disturbances (i.e. fire or beetle outbreaks). We propose a project to update distribution maps for three park units, develop robust analyses for disease presence and severity, and to test methods of remote sensing to detect disease. This project would build upon existing vegetation inventory and monitoring data and take the first steps in additional analyses to augment plot data collection with periodic landscape image analysis.
The Scientist in Park (SiP) will develop reproducible analysis scripts in R to update projections of species distributions using multiple NCCN vegetation data sources and park-scale abiotic data, including correlations with abiotic predictors (e.g., elevation, aspect, solar exposure). The SiP will develop interactive analyses to determine disease incidence and severity using existing long-term vegetation plot data. The SiP will also sample a small area that includes several long-term monitoring plots at Mount Rainier National Park to test detectability of whitebark pine and disease in high-resolution satellite imagery. The SiP will work with NPS mentors to develop data files and a report summarizing the results and will make presentations to brief park managers with project outcomes.