Aflame with Color

Canyon or Big-Toothed Maple
In a natural landscape
Acer grandidentatum
Courtesy Michael Kuhns
Extension.usu.edu

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The canyons and valleys of Utah will soon be awash with brilliant fall hues. Cascades of red, orange and gold will blanket the hillsides as the weather turns cooler and morning frost dusts the mountain ridges.

The Canyon Maple is one of Utah’s main sources of autumn color. Like most maple species, its leaves are carved into deep lobes. The leaves are medium-to-bright green now, but soon the entire tree will glow with spectacular color.
Canyon maple is found throughout Utah at medium elevations between 4,500 to 7,500 feet. It tends to grow on lower slopes and canyon bottoms in the mountains in association with Douglas-fir and junipers.

Its scientific name, Acer grandidentatum [AY-ser gran-dih-den-TAY-tum], means “Big Tooth”, referring to the tree’s distinctive lobed leaves with large, toothed margins. In fact, bigtooth maple is another common name for this species.

Canyon or Big-Toothed Maple
In a natural landscape
Acer grandidentatum
Courtesy Michael Kuhns
Extension.usu.edu

Some think that he canyon maple is related to the sugar maple of the northeastern and midwestern United States,” says forestry professor Mike Kuhns of Utah State University’s Department of Wildland Resources. It’s possible that long ago, the Rocky Mountains rose up and isolated a sugar maple population that eventually evolved into a unique species.

The canyon maple rivals its eastern relatives in fall color but does it produce sap suitable for tasty, syrup-covered waffles and pancakes? Back in 1970s, a group of scientists set out to determine just that. The trees were tapped and yielded plenty of sticky liquid. The color was very light, resembling light honey and the flavor was delicate and fruity, almost like pineapple. However, it was notably less sweet than the northeastern sugar maple. Of 30 panelists from Utah who participated in a taste test, 57 percent preferred eastern sugar maple syrup but the remaining 43 percent preferred canyon maple syrup.

Canyon or Big-Toothed Maple
leaves in late summer
Acer grandidentatum
Courtesy Michael Kuhns

The researchers concluded that while canyon maple sap was not practical for large-scale syrup production it might be enjoyable for individuals to try on a small scale on private land within its habitat range.

Syrup aside, the medium-sized tree thrives in Utah’s residential landscapes, parks and urban areas, as well as in the wild. Its year-round beauty, hardiness and manageable size make it a perennial favorite in the Beehive State.

Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:

Canyon or Big-Toothed Maple
leaves in late summer & fall
Acer grandidentatum
Courtesy Michael Kuhns
Extension.usu.edu

Image: Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Michael Kuhns, Extension.usu.edu

Text: Holly Strand & Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Stokes Nature Center
Sources & Additional Reading

 

Barker, Phillip A.; Salunkhe, D. K. 1974. Maple syrup from bigtooth maple. Journal of Forestry. 72(8): 491-492. [9065] http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/saf/jof/1974/00000072/00000008/art00016

Kuhns, Michael. 2003. Canyon Maple: A Tree For the Interior West,” USU Forestry Extension, http://extension.usu.edu/forestry/HomeTown/Select_CanyonMaple.htm [2009, September 16].

Tollefson, Jennifer E. 2006. Acer grandidentatum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2009, September 16]

Acer grandidentatum – Bigtooth Maple, Water-wise Plants for Utah Landscapes, http://www.waterwiseplants.utah.gov/default.asp?p=PlantInfo&Plant=17

Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change

Packrat Fossil Midden City of RocksCourtesy and Copyright 2009 Julio Betancourt - All Rights Reserved
Packrat Fossil Midden
City of Rocks
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

In the late 1970’s, springtime in the American West warmed abruptly by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the valleys, double that higher up. Our average onset of Spring now comes a week earlier across the West. If these are the first signs of climate change, even longer growing seasons will trigger not just earlier blooms but also northward plant migrations.

The past provides us with lessons about plant migrations. A thousand years ago, one-needle pinyon hopped from the Raft River Mountains in Utah to City of Rocks, Idaho. Across Utah, two-needle pinyon leaped over the Uintas to Flaming Gorge. We know this from radiocarbon dates on pinyon pine needles taken from ancient nest heaps of packrats preserved in caves. According to Dr. Julio Betancourt of the U.S. Geological Survey, who uses these packrat middens and tree rings to reveal past plant migrations, these recent advances by Utah’s two pinyon pines followed the Medieval Climate Anomaly, a period from 900 to 1300 AD marked by warming in Europe and severe drought in Utah.

Packrat 7000 year old Midden Joshua Tree Natl Park, Courtesy and Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt - All Rights Reserved
Packrat 7000 year old Midden
Joshua Tree Natl Park
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

Droughts figure prominently in Dr. Betancourt’s view of tree migrations. Droughts trigger bark beetle infestations, wildfires, and tree dieoffs, opening up niches for regeneration. When the drought abates, the resident tree species typically return. With long-term warming, however, other species can move in from lower elevations or further south. Dead trees now abound on Utah’s landscape, and Dr. Betancourt thinks that we are on the verge of a new spate of tree migrations.

This go around, which species retreat or advance will depend on new factors, including human fragmentation of the landscape and accelerated dispersal of native and non-native species that hitch rides with us. To conserve ecological goods and services associated with some species, Dr. Betancourt argues, we will have to manage for these plant migrations.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Julio Betancourt

Text: Julio Betancourt USGS NRP Tucson: Biotic Response to Climate Variability

Faculty and Staff > Julio Betancourt

Additional Reading:

USGS National Research Program: Tucson AZ
http://wwwpaztcn.wr.usgs.gov/home.html

Climate Change and the Great Basin, Jeanne C. Chambers, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Reno, NV, 2008,

A Database of Paleoecological Records from Neotoma Middens in Western North America, USGS/NOAA North American Packrat Midden Database, http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/midden/ (Accessed 27 August 2009)

USA National Phenology Network

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Courtesy USA National Phenology Network

The study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events is phenology. It is the calendar of nature. This includes when plants flower, when birds migrate and when crops mature. Phenology is relevant to interactions between organisms, seasonal timing and large-scale cycles of water and carbon. Phenology is important to us for many reasons. Farmers need to know when to plant and harvest crops and when to expect pests to emerge. Resource managers use it to monitor and predict drought and assess fire risk. Vacationers want to know when the best fall colors will be or when the wildflower blooms will peak. Timing varies but we can discern patterns.

The USA National Phenology Network monitors the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals and landscapes. They encourage people to observe phenological events such as flowering, migrations and egg laying. The Phenology Network provides a place to enter, store and share these observations, which are then compiled and analyzed nationwide. Participants range from individual observers in their own backyards to professional scientists monitoring long-term plots. My husband and I monitor leafing and flowering of lilacs, a key species in the program.

These observations support a wide range of decisions made routinely by citizens, managers, scientists and others. This includes decisions related to allergies, wildfires, pest control, and water management.

I urge you to participate. The National Phenology Network has many public, private and citizen partners. It is a great way to become involved in a nation-wide effort to better understand our environment. All this information and much more is available at the National Phenology website, to which there is a link from our Wild About Utah website.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

USA National Phenology Network, http://www.usanpn.org/

North American Bird Phenology Program, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bpp/BecomeAParticipant.cfm

Bark Beetle Mania

Pine beetle damage to ponderosa pine
in Dixie National Forest
2000 USDA Forest Service

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

For a creature that’s typically less than six millimeters in size, bark beetles certainly have a mammoth footprint. Outbreaks of the tiny insects in forests across western North America have changed millions of trees into shriveled, rust-colored sentinels of a changing ecosystem. In Utah alone, between 1990 and 2005, wood-boring beetles ate their way through more than 466,000 acres which equals 3% of Utah’s total forested area.

Bark beetles are native to our forests and evolved together with their respective hosts. For example, the Douglas-fir beetle evolved with Douglas firs, and the spruce beetle with Engelmann spruce. The mountain pine beetle is the least discriminating. It attacks lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and, more recently, high elevation species such as whitebark pine, limber pine, and bristlecone pine.

Douglas fir beetle galleries
beneath the outer bark
2000 USDA Forest Service

At healthy population levels, bark beetles renew forests by killing older and declining trees, allowing young, more productive ones to flourish. Female beetles initiate the assault, simultaneously attracting males using pheromones. Within hours the tree becomes the site of a “mass attack” of thousands of beetles. Then the females begin to reproduce. An individual female may lay over 100 eggs. As eggs hatch, larvae construct feeding galleries in the inner bark of the tree. These galleries eventually girdle and kill the tree by cutting off the exchange of nutrients between the roots and the crown of the tree.

Some of the biggest outbreaks in Utah have occurred in the Dixie and the Manti La Sal National Forests. The spruce beetle is responsible for thousands of acres of dead Engelmann spruce trees in both of these forests. The Piñon Ips beetle also thrives in piñon pines in southern UT. Meanwhile, on the other end of the state, the mountain pine beetle is causing serious outbreaks in the Uintas. The Wasatch Range forests have yet to experience extensive diebacks but the mountain pine beetle, Douglas fir beetle and spruce beetle are all causing higher mortality rates than they have in the past.

Certain forestry management practices are partially responsible for the unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks. Dense, homogenous forests with repressed fire regimes are more susceptible to attack. On the other hand, uncrowded, variable age stands composed of lots of different species are healthy and resilient.

Warming climate conditions have also contributed to the severe bark beetle outbreaks. Early fall and late spring freezes, and extremely cold temperatures help repress bark beetle populations. I’ll try to keep this in mind when it’s snowing in June here in Cache Valley. At least our pine trees will be healthy and safe from the bark beetle.

Barbara Bentz, research entomologist with the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and adjunct faculty member with Utah State University’s Department of Wildland Resources, provided the scientific information for this piece.

Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources and the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topics. For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: UDSA Forest Service: Assessment and response to bark beetle outbreaks in the Rocky Mountain aea. Report to Congress from Forest Health Protection (see below)

Text: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Bentz B, Allen CD, Ayres M, Berg E, Carroll A, Hansen M, Hicke J, Joyce L, Logan J,MacFarlane W, MacMahon J, Munson S, Negr?n J, Paine T, Powell J, Raffa K, Régnière J, Reid M, Romme W, Seybold S, Six D, Tomback D, Vandygriff J, Veblen T, White M, Witcosky J, Wood D (2009) Bark Beetle Outbreaks in Western North America: Causes and Consequences. University of Utah Press, ISBN 978-0-87480965-7, 42 p.
http://www.amazon.com/Beetle-Outbreaks-Western-North-America/dp/0874809657

Logan, J.A., Powell, J.A. 2001. Ghost forests, global warming, and the mountain pine beetle (Coleoptera: Scolytidae). Am. Ent. 47(3): 160-172.
http://www.usu.edu/beetle/documents/Logan_Powell01.pdf

Samman, Safiya, Logan, Jesse tech eds. 2000. Assessment and response to bark beetle outbreaks in the Rocky Mountain aea. Report to Congress from Forest Health Protection, Washington Office, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-62. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 46 p.
http://www.usu.edu/beetle/documents/2000186_5Samman_Logan.pdf (accessed June 22, 2009)