Mountain pine beetles are native insects to North America that have helped shape forests in this region for thousands of years. The beetle is a parasite and uses pine trees as a source of food and as a place to lay eggs. Recent changes in climate have allowed the insect to reproduce in large numbers, resulting in the loss of many acres of forest. The changes in climate include warmer than usual winter temperatures in the mountains that allow the young and vulnerable mountain pine beetles to survive through the winter.

The recent outbreak has been classified by scientists as an epidemic and has left millions of trees in the mountains of the western United States and Canada dead, dying, or damaged. The large amount of dead and dying trees can fuel forest fires, for which many parts of the region are susceptible.

Using the Rocky Mountain National Park BioBlitz FieldScope project, you can track the epidemic as it progresses across the park from 2001 to 2011. Launch the FieldScope project from the image above. Once loaded, notice that the orange-red color represents damage caused to stands of trees from mountain pine beetles. A vertical bar will appear on the map that you can move from side to side to compare damage between two different years that you will select, from 2001 to 2011.

  1. What information is the map layer Mountain Pine Beetles showing?

    • Answer

      The map layer Mountain Pine Beetles is showing damage caused to stands of pine trees from the mountain pine beetle from 2001 to 2011.

  2. Between what two years did the damage from the mountain pine beetles increase significantly and affect the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time?

    • Answer

      Between 2006 and 2007 the damage from the mountain pine beetle increased significantly and caused significant damage on the east side of the park for the first time.

  3. Which life zone in the park has been the least damaged by mountain pine beetles? Why?

    • Answer

      The tundra life zone has been the least damaged by mountain pine beetles because there are no pine trees in this ecosystem. Other types of plants grow in this life zone including grasses and wildflowers.

  4. What species of pine tree are found in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Vegetation layer included in the Fieldscope project.

    • Answer

      Species of pine tree include: lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and limber pine.

  5. How have warming temperatures helped the mountain pine beetle become so successful in the park in recent years?

    • Answer

      Warming temperatures have helped the mountain pine beetle eggs and larvae to survive through the winter. Decreased precipitation has also weakened the pine trees, making them more susceptible to infestation.


harmful invasion, usually with many small opponents.


type of animal that breathes air and has a body divided into three segments, with six legs and usually wings.


a new or immature insect or other type of invertebrate.


organism that lives and feeds on another organism.


A continuous area or group of tall plants or trees.


capable of being hurt.