Bark beetle infestation impacts on nutrient cycling, water quality and interdependent hydrological effects

Kristin M. Mikkelson, Lindsay A. Bearup, Reed M. Maxwell, John D. Stednick, John E. McCray, Jonathan O. Sharp

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Bark beetle populations have drastically increased in magnitude over the last several decades leading to the largest-scale tree mortality ever recorded from an insect infestation on multiple wooded continents. When the trees die, the loss of canopy and changes in water and nutrient uptake lead to observable changes in hydrology and biogeochemical cycling. This review aims to synthesize the current research on the effects of the bark beetle epidemic on nutrient cycling and water quality while integrating recent and relevant hydrological findings, along with suggesting necessary future research avenues. Studies generally agree that snow depth will increase in infested forests, though the magnitude is uncertain. Changes in evapotranspiration are more variable as decreased transpiration from tree death may be offset by increased understory evapotranspiration and ground evaporation. As a result of such competing hydrologic processes that can affect watershed biogeochemistry along with the inherent variability of natural watershed characteristics, water quality changes related to beetle infestation are difficult to predict and may be regionally distinct. However, tree-scale changes to soil-water chemistry (N, P, DOC and base cation concentrations and composition) are being observed in association with beetle outbreaks which ultimately could lead to larger-scale responses. The different temporal and spatial patterns of bark beetle infestations due to different beetle and tree species lead to inconsistent infestation impacts. Climatic variations and large-scale watershed responses provide a further challenge for predictions due to spatial heterogeneities within a single watershed; conflicting reports from different regions suggest that hydrologic and water quality impacts of the beetle on watersheds cannot be generalized. Research regarding the subsurface water and chemical flow-paths and residence times after a bark beetle epidemic is lacking and needs to be rigorously addressed to best predict watershed or regional-scale changes to soil-water, groundwater, and stream water chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


  • Bark beetle
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Hydrology
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Water quality


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