Forest defoliator outbreaks under climate change: effects on the frequency and severity of outbreaks of five pine insect pests



To identify general patterns in the effects of climate change on the outbreak dynamics of forest-defoliating insect species, we examined a 212-year record (1800–2011) of outbreaks of five pine-defoliating species (Bupalus piniarius, Panolis flammea, Lymantria monacha, Dendrolimus pini, and Diprion pini) in Bavaria, Germany for the evidence of climate-driven changes in the severity, cyclicity, and frequency of outbreaks. We also accounted for historical changes in forestry practices and examined effects of past insecticide use to suppress outbreaks. Analysis of relationships between severity or occurrence of outbreaks and detrended measures of temperature and precipitation revealed a mixture of positive and negative relationships between temperature and outbreak activity. Two moth species (P. flammea and Dendrolimus pini) exhibited lower outbreak activity following years or decades of unusually warm temperatures, whereas a sawfly (Diprion pini), for which voltinism is influenced by temperature, displayed increased outbreak occurrence in years of high summer temperatures. We detected only one apparent effect of precipitation, which showed Dendrolimus pini outbreaks tending to follow drought. Wavelet analysis of outbreak time series suggested climate change may be associated with collapse of L. monacha and Dendrolimus pini outbreak cycles (loss of cyclicity and discontinuation of outbreaks, respectively), but high-frequency cycles for B. piniarius and P. flammea in the late 1900s. Regional outbreak severity was generally not related to past suppression efforts (area treated with insecticides). Recent shifts in forestry practices affecting tree species composition roughly coincided with high-frequency outbreak cycles in B. piniarius and P. flammea but are unlikely to explain the detected relationships between climate and outbreak severity or collapses of outbreak cycles. Our results highlight both individualistic responses of different pine-defoliating species to climate changes and some patterns that are consistent across defoliator species in this and other forest systems, including collapsing of population cycles.