Drought and mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae
Hopkins) outbreaks have affected millions of hectares of high-elevation conifer forests in the Northern Rocky Mountains during the past century. Little research has examined the distinction between mountain pine beetle outbreaks and climatic influence on radial growth in endangered whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis
Engelm.) ecosystems. We used a new method to explore divergent periods in whitebark pine radial growth after mountain pine beetle outbreaks across six sites in western Montana. We examined a 100-year history of mountain pine beetle outbreaks and climate relationships in whitebark pine radial growth to distinguish whether monthly climate variables or mountain pine outbreaks were the dominant influence on whitebark pine growth during the 20th century. High mortality of whitebark pines was caused by the overlapping effects of previous and current mountain pine beetle outbreaks and white pine blister rust infection. Wet conditions from precipitation and snowpack melt in the previous summer, current spring, and current summer benefit whitebark pine radial growth during the following growing season. Whitebark pine radial growth and climate relationships were strongest in sites less affected by the mountain pine beetle outbreaks or anthropogenic disturbances. Whitebark pine population resiliency should continue to be monitored as more common periods of drought will make whitebark pines more susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack and to white pine blister rust infection.
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