Main content area

Tree spatial patterns modulate peak snow accumulation and snow disappearance

Schneider, Eryn E., Affleck, David L.R., Larson, Andrew J.
Forest ecology and management 2019 v.441 pp. 9-19
Larix occidentalis, Pinus ponderosa, Pseudotsuga menziesii, conifers, ecological function, forest canopy, forests, habitats, overstory, phenology, snow, spatial variation, terrestrial radiation, trees, understory, ungulates, water interception, water storage, winter
Forests and snow covered regions frequently co-occur across the northern hemisphere. In these environments, forests are structurally and spatially complex mosaics of tree neighborhoods that are intrinsically linked to ecosystem functions. Tree and canopy structures influence snow accumulation and disappearance processes through interception and radiation attenuation. However, it is unclear if spatial heterogeneity within the forest canopy induces heterogeneity in snow accumulation and persistence. We quantitatively identified different tree neighborhoods and tested the differential effects of these within-stand neighborhoods on snow processes. Neighborhood types included individual ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and western larch (Larix occidentalis) trees, dense overstory tree clumps, openings, and regeneration patches. Intensive measurements of snow accumulation (density and depth) and persistence (disappearance date) were made within replicate neighborhoods for three years. Overall, neighborhood type and year had a significant effect on accumulation and snow disappearance. Openings were significantly different from clumps and individuals, always accumulating more snow. Openings retained snow significantly later than clumps but were not significantly different from individuals. Within the individual tree neighborhood type, a nested species effect indicated no differences in accumulation but significant differences in disappearance between deciduous and evergreen conifers, with snow persisting longer beneath deciduous western larch. Our results suggest that canopy interception is the primary mechanism driving the accumulation phase, while snow disappearance patterns are largely a consequence of spatial variation of longwave radiation. Reducing canopy interception and longwave radiation by increasing the abundance of widely spaced single trees and small openings with silvicultural treatments should increase snow depth and duration, and thus snow water storage. Maintaining a heterogeneous canopy structure that includes tree clumps can be used to meet multiple objectives such as provision of ungulate winter range habitat, and heterogenous understory plant phenology.