Risky Resilience

Cloaks of brown and green
huddle close to sustain
shared lives and leaves,
shifting in time to
not break
with the wind –
catching each blow
to regulate,
and grow.
But western fronts
bring harsher times –
plagues of
and drought
that push and pull
with rigid doubt.
A final recoil to
a stark,
untimely end.

A forest at the headwaters of Ritchie Run, Clinton County in the United States, at the West Branch Forest Preserve (Image Credit: Nicholas_T via Flickr).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that in the Western United States, an increase in forest resilience is linked with a higher mortality risk for trees.

Large-scale forest mortality events have been globally observed over the past few decades in response to a changing climate of severe droughts, heatwaves, and outbreaks of pests and diseases. Likewise, forest resilience is a measure of adaptability. It focuses on retaining a forest’s essential structure and composition to a range of stresses or complex disturbances. A forest’s resilience, or ability to absorb environmental disturbances, has long been thought to be a boost for its odds of survival against such events.

However, in this new study, for some forests in the Western United States, a different relationship has been observed. By using more than three decades of satellite image data for assessing forest resilience and comparing it to more than two decades of ground observations of forest tree death across the continental United States, the researchers have shown that while high ecosystem resilience correlates with low mortality in eastern forests, it is linked to high mortality in western regions. This unexpected resilience–mortality relation could be driven by regional factors such as insect populations, resource competition, and drier climates, all of which are heavily influenced by climate change. Whatever the reason for this relationship, the findings have implications for future predictions of forest mortality events, especially in response to the ever-changing climate.

4 thoughts on “Risky Resilience”

  1. Out West

    Water seems to be destiny,
    Fire a co-conspirator.
    Mountains tall enough
    To consort with the jet stream
    Have their say.
    – B. Valerie Peckler

  2. Western forests have a completely different palette, a different fragrance. The dominant trees out west are often conifers. There is a co-evolution for living (surviving or reviving) with fire. Eastern climax forests, to my mind, are driven by the dependability of water. Temperate deciduous forests have a different soil ecology. I have lived and traveled through varied environments in the US.
    In Colorado, where I have lived for the past 30 years, there are some years in which the winters are not cold enough to kill the insects that attack trees. Here drought is real and water is political.


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