Rapid northwards expansion of a forest insect pest attributed to spring phenology matching with sub-Arctic birch


Jane U. Jepsen, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Farm Centre, N-9296 Tromsø, Norway, e-mail: jane.jepsen@nina.no


Species range displacements owing to shifts in temporal associations between trophic levels are expected consequences of climate warming. Climate-induced range expansions have been shown for two irruptive forest defoliators, the geometrids Operophtera brumata and Epirrita autumnata, causing more extensive forest damage in sub-Arctic Fennoscandia. Here, we document a rapid northwards expansion of a novel irruptive geometrid, Agriopis aurantiaria, into the same region, with the aim of providing insights into mechanisms underlying the recent geometrid range expansions and subsequent forest damage. Based on regional scale data on occurrences and a quantitative monitoring of population densities along the invasion front, we show that, since the first records of larval specimens in the region in 1997–1998, the species has spread northwards to approximately 70°N, and caused severe defoliation locally during 2004–2006. Through targeted studies of larval phenology of A. aurantiaria and O. brumata, as well as spring phenology of birch, along meso-scale climatic gradients, we show that A. aurantiaria displays a similar dynamics and development as O. brumata, albeit with a consistent phenological lag of 0.75–1 instar. Experiments of the temperature requirements for egg hatching and for budburst in birch showed that this phenological lag is caused by delayed egg hatching in A. aurantiaria relative to O. brumata. A. aurantiaria had a higher development threshold (LDTA.a.=4.71 °C, LDTO.b.=1.41 °C), and hatched later and in less synchrony with budburst than O. brumata at the lower end of the studied temperature range. We can conclude that recent warmer springs have provided phenological match between A. aurantiaria and sub-Arctic birch which may intensify the cumulative impact of geometrid outbreaks on this forest ecosystem. Higher spring temperatures will increase spring phenological synchrony between A. aurantiaria and its host, which suggests that a further expansion of the outbreak range of A. aurantiaria can be expected.