Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

First Advisor

Carol A. Wessman

Second Advisor

Ben Livneh

Third Advisor

Katharine Suding

Fourth Advisor

William Bowman


Previous research shows that multiple co-located disturbances can lead to a variety of potential outcomes in terms of the recovery of conifer forests across high-elevation landscapes. Ecophysiology literature has demonstrated that soil moisture and vapor pressure deficit can be critical to the success of conifer seedlings. To explore the role that variation in soil moisture plays in potential forest regeneration after major disturbances, I combined a field study of seedling recovery after the 2012-2013 Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park, USA with a novel attempt to estimate plot-level soil moisture using the Variability Infiltration Capacity land surface model. Results demonstrated that land surface modeling is a useful technique for estimating soil moisture at scales greater than that of an individual plant and for mitigating the limitations of sparse field observations. In addition, kurtosis of modeled growing season soil moisture was shown to be predictive of seedling success. More research is needed to determine whether these results can be replicated in other contexts.