Spatial–temporal analysis of species range expansion: the case of the mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae


*Colin Robertson, Spatial Pattern Analysis & Research (SPAR) Laboratory, Department of Geography, University of Victoria, PO Box 3060, Victoria, BC, V8W 3R4, Canada. E-mail:


Aim  The spatial extent of western Canada’s current epidemic of mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins (Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae), is increasing. The roles of the various dispersal processes acting as drivers of range expansion are poorly understood for most species. The aim of this paper is to characterize the movement patterns of the mountain pine beetle in areas where range expansion is occurring, in order to describe the fine-scale spatial dynamics of processes associated with mountain pine beetle range expansion.

Location  Three regions of Canada’s Rocky Mountains: Kicking Horse Pass, Yellowhead Pass and Pine Pass.

Methods  Data on locations of mountain pine beetle-attacked trees of predominantly lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) were obtained from annual fixed-wing aircraft surveys of forest health and helicopter-based GPS surveys of mountain pine beetle-damaged areas in British Columbia and Alberta. The annual (1999–2005) spatial extents of outbreak ranges were delineated from these data. Spatial analysis was conducted using the spatial–temporal analysis of moving polygons (STAMP), a recently developed pattern-based approach.

Results  We found that distant dispersal patterns (spot infestations) were most often associated with marginal increases in the areal size of mountain pine beetle range polygons. When the mountain pine beetle range size increased rapidly relative to the years examined, local dispersal patterns (adjacent infestation) were more common. In Pine Pass, long-range dispersal (> 2 km) markedly extended the north-east border of the mountain pine beetle range. In Yellowhead Pass and Kicking Horse Pass, the extension of the range occurred incrementally via ground-based spread.

Main conclusions  Dispersal of mountain pine beetle varies with geography as well as with host and beetle population dynamics. Although colonization is mediated by habitat connectivity, during periods of low overall habitat expansion, dispersal to new distant locations is common, whereas during periods of rapid invasion, locally connected spread is the dominant mode of dispersal. The propensity for long-range transport to establish new beetle populations, and thus to be considered a driver of range expansion, is likely to be determined by regional weather patterns, and influenced by local topography. We conclude that STAMP appears to be a useful approach for examining changes in biogeograpical ranges, with the potential to reveal both fine- and large-scale patterns.