Concordant population dynamics of Lepidoptera herbivores in a forest ecosystem


  • Erik E. Stange,

  • Matthew P. Ayres,

  • James A. Bess

E. E. Stange (, Dept of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA, present address: Norwegian Inst. for Nature Research, NO-2624 Lillehammer, Norway. – M. P. Ayres, Dept of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA. – J. A. Bess, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Michigan Tech Univ., Houghton, MI 49931, USA.


It is frequently assumed that population fluctuations are largely independent within a community of trophically-similar species, but this need not be so. If population fluctuations are partly synchronized or concordant, this will produce interannual variability in the community's aggregate abundance and generate temporal variance in ecosystem structure. We studied the community of Lepidoptera inhabiting northern hardwood forests in New Hampshire, USA, to evaluate the hypothesis that fluctuations in consumer communities can arise from concordant dynamics of constituent populations. Interannual comparisons of moth abundances for >75 species sampled at three sites over four years revealed that concordant dynamics contribute strongly to interannual variability in the abundance of consumers. A conspicuous decline in community abundance from 2004 to 2005 was the result of predominantly negative population growth rates of the component species, while an increase in community abundance from 2006 to 2007 was the result of predominantly positive population growth rates. Population dynamics most strongly linked species that feed in the early season (perhaps due to shared responses to climatic effects), but not species that might share natural enemies or host plants. The observed concordant dynamics introduced conspicuous temporal variation in the abundance of primary consumers relative to plants and secondary consumers, thereby altering the forest's trophic structure. Such variance in the aggregate abundance of forest primary consumers could generate time-lagged fluctuations in abundances of secondary consumers and will generally have important consequences for ecosystem properties and processes that are nonlinear functions of consumer abundance, such as plant community structure and nutrient cycling.