Research on Mountain Pine Beetle

Mountain Pine Beetle Initiative graphic

Mountain pine beetle has been studied extensively, but there is still a lot to learn about its historical distribution, biology and role in the ecosystem. Parks Canada, in conjunction with its partners, is conducting research to learn more.

Many studies are underway in the Mountain National Parks. Below you will find some examples of research happening in and between various parks.

Jasper National Park

SELES Mountain Pine Beetle Risk and Susceptibility Model

As part of the Foothills Model Forest, Jasper National Park participated in the development of a model that attempts to predict where mountain pine beetle populations may increase given the right conditions. Many factors were inputted into the model, including:

  • slope aspect
  • tree stand age
  • tree size
  • percentage of pine in the stand

From the model, a map was produced that identifies areas favourable to mountain pine beetle. This map was tested for accuracy using the ecological land classification for Jasper National Park, and by checking areas on the ground to make sure they were the same as the map.

The location and rate of spread identified by the model will help adjacent land managers prepare for possible beetle outbreaks, and provide Parks Canada managers with a tool to assist in managing these areas appropriately.

Banff and Kootenay National Parks

Time of burning and stand susceptibility to MPB in Canada’s Southern Rocky Mountains


The University of British Columbia, Canadian Forest Service and Parks Canada are conducting research to better understand the relationship between fire and mountain pine beetle. They will test the hypothesis that higher severity fires, typical in mid-summer to fall, are more likely to completely kill trees in an existing forest. This encourages the regeneration of pure, uniform-aged stands of lodgepole pine trees, which are favoured by the beetle. In contrast, it is thought that lower severity fires, typical in spring to early summer, are more likely to lead to mixed species, uneven-aged stands, which are less favoured by the beetle. This hypothesis will be tested by:

  1. Determining the season of burning of historic fires, and the structure and composition of the forests produced by such fires; and
  2. The origin (early season fire, late season fire, non-fire) of the stands being most heavily attacked by mountain pine beetle.

The study will compare conditions in montane (valley-bottom) ecosystems on the east side (Banff National Park) and west side (Kootenay National Park) of the Rocky Mountains and adjacent areas. The study will examine the theory that fires on the west side have generally been more severe than those on the east side as a result of different seasons of burning, partially contributing to the greater incidence of beetle attack in the west side (Kootenay park).

Banff National Park

Assessing the Effectiveness of Mountain Pine Beetle Management Strategies in Banff National Park


  • Parks Canada

Parks Canada recognizes that mountain pine beetle in Banff National Park is an endemic species and recognizes population outbreaks as a natural process that should be allowed to proceed where possible. However, concerns of adjacent land managers who are responsible for economic growth through the harvesting of healthy trees are also important. Currently, low elevation passes and montane valleys that drain out of Banff could provide both suitable mature forests and climate conditions that would allow mountain pine beetle populations to spread into the foothills forests of Alberta, where extensive tracts of older lodgepole pine may be at risk.

In order to meet Parks Canada’s mandate while recognizing these concerns, Banff has created two areas where different strategies are employed:

  1. A monitoring zone – where prescribed fire is the only tool for beetle management.
  2. A management zone – where more direct control measures - prescribed burning, pheromone baiting, cut and remove or cut and burn of colonized trees – are used.

Parks Canada is developing a model to assess the effectiveness of this management strategy for slowing the eastern spread of mountain pine beetle.

This study will look at:

  • Whether the boundary of the “management zone” and the level of active management in that zone has been effective.
  • Whether a similar strategy would be appropriate in other mountain parks susceptible to mountain pine beetle.

Using data on beetle distribution and abundance, the model will predict beetle densities in a particular area based on that area’s connectivity with other colonized areas. Once the model has been refined it will be used to predict the distribution of mountain pine beetle in Banff National Park under current conditions, as well as its distribution under different management scenarios.

Waterton Lakes, Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks

Ecological role of MPB in unmanaged stands:
The influence of mountain pine beetle on succession in Rocky Mountain National Parks


  • Parks Canada
  • Biome Ecological Consultants
  • Art Stock Consulting

Mountain pine beetle ecology is well studied, but there are relatively few studies about the ecological role of the beetle, meaning its interaction with the living and non-living elements of its environment. To better understand this role, Parks Canada will study the structure and composition of forest stands that have experienced mountain pine beetle outbreaks at different points in the past. The study will examine how a stand that has experienced a mountain pine beetle outbreak has evolved differently from a stand that has not. As there have been multiple beetle outbreaks in the Rocky Mountain National Parks, the landscape is now composed of stands in different states of recovery from different severities of outbreak by the beetle. These current stands are at different stages of structural development, and likely have other differences (for example, different species communities). Structure and species composition will be compared on stands of various ages and points in their evolution.

By better understanding the role mountain pine beetle plays in shaping forests, Parks Canada can better manage and protect this ecological process.

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