A severity rating system for evaluating stand-level balsam woolly adelgid (Hemiptera: Adelgidae) damage in two Abies species in western North America.
Severity rating systems are fundamental to understanding the impacts of disturbance agents in forest stands. The balsam woolly adelgid (BWA), Adelges piceae (Ratzeburg) (Hemiptera: Adelgidae), is an invasive forest pest in North America that infests and causes mortality in true fir, Abies spp. There is currently no single system for evaluating damage caused by BWA in the western United States. Because range expansion through favored habitat is inevitable, it is imperative to begin long-term monitoring using a unified approach to evaluate changing conditions and hasten management opportunities. We developed a new rating system for two western host species: grand fir and subalpine fir. Unlike other severity scales, our index describes stand-level damage rather than impacts on individual host trees alone. We sampled 57 sites across the current range of BWA in the western United States and compiled severity indices using 10 metrics of overstory and understory damage. We used analyses of variance to identify five discrete severity classes and translated the results into a descriptive table of damage characteristics for each class. This index is proposed as an improvement over existing rating systems for western North America because of its broader scope, demonstrated ability to distinguish between classes, and identification of the predominant indicators that will improve the efficiency and efficacy of field assessments. The adoption of this system will facilitate long-term monitoring through site resurveys that will be directly comparable over time, also allowing future studies to conduct risk assessments and target stands that face the greatest threat to forest health.