Dying trees in Southwest set stage for erosion, water loss in Colorado River
CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research concludes that a one-two punch of drought and mountain pine beetle attacks are the primary forces that have killed more than 2.5 million acres of pinyon pine and juniper trees in the American Southwest during the past 15 years, setting the stage for further ecological disruption.
The widespread dieback of these tree species is a special concern, scientists say, because they are some of the last trees that can hold together a fragile ecosystem, nourish other plant and animal species, and prevent serious soil erosion.
The major form of soil erosion in this region is wind erosion. Dust blowing from eroded hills can cover snowpacks, cause them to absorb heat from the sun and melt more quickly, and further reduce critically-short water supplies in the Colorado River basin.
The findings were published in the journal Ecohydrology by scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and the Conservation Biology Institute in Oregon. NASA supported the work.