The exotic disease white pine blister rust (caused by Cronartium ribicola) damages and kills whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), even in the extreme environments of alpine treeline communities. We surveyed P. albicaulis trees and tree islands for blister rust in 2 distinct alpine treeline communities in Montana, USA, and examined meso- and microtopographic factors potentially related to the climatic requirements for blister rust infection. For each of 60 sampling plots, we created high-resolution digital elevation models, derived microtopography variables, and compared these and distance to water feature variables with blister rust occurrence and intensity (number of cankers per infected tree) for every sampled P. albicaulis tree. Infection rates were 19% (of 328 sampled trees) and 24% (of 585 sampled trees) at the 2 sites. Tree island P. albicaulis had higher infection percentages than solitary trees. Using Bayesian analysis and a zero-inflated Poisson regression model, we determined that solar radiation and moisture-related variables correlated with both presence and number of blister rust cankers on P. albicaulis. Site factors that influence moisture, such as local topography, hydrology, and climate, differed between the 2 treeline study areas, which may account for the model variability.
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Vol. 20 • No. 3