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Keywords:

  • forest defoliation;
  • global warming;
  • insect attacks;
  • invasion;
  • population cycles

Summary

  • 1
    Range expansions mediated by recent climate warming have been documented for many insect species, including some important forest pests. However, whether climate change also influences the eruptive dynamics of forest pest insects, and hence the ecological and economical consequences of outbreaks, is largely unresolved.
  • 2
    Using historical outbreak records covering more than a century, we document recent outbreak range expansions of two species of cyclic geometrid moth, Operophtera brumata Bkh. (winter moth) and Epirrita autumnata L. (autumnal moth), in subarctic birch forest of northern Fennoscandia. The two species differ with respect to cold tolerance, and show strikingly different patterns in their recent outbreak range expansion.
  • 3
    We show that, during the past 15–20 years, the less cold-tolerant species O. brumata has experienced a pronounced north-eastern expansion into areas previously dominated by E. autumnata outbreaks. Epirrita autumnata, on the other hand, has expanded the region in which it exhibits regular outbreaks into the coldest, most continental areas. Our findings support the suggestion that recent climate warming in the region is the most parsimonious explanation for the observed patterns.
  • 4
    The presence of O. brumata outbreaks in regions previously affected solely by E. autumnata outbreaks is likely to increase the effective duration of local outbreaks, and hence have profound implications for the subarctic birch forest ecosystem.