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Natural disturbances are key factors for the development of forest ecosystems. In forests of central Europe and Scandinavia, the European spruce bark beetle Ips typographus is the most devastating biotic disturbance agent in Norway spruce Picea abies, but our understanding of the factors determining its spatio-temporal dynamics is still quite limited. To quantify the drivers of bark beetle dynamics, we analyzed a survey dataset with annual resolution that covers 17 yr and 469 forest districts (10 860 km2 of forest area) all over Switzerland. We used Poisson log-normal models in a Bayesian framework to analyze the spatio-temporal dynamics of bark beetle infestation spots at the forest district level. Bark beetle infestations increased with increasing heat sum (> 8.3°C), volume of standing Norway spruce stock, and the number of infestation spots of the previous year. Precipitation tended to slightly affect the risk of bark beetle infestations. Two major storm events further increased the spatio-temporal variability of bark beetle infestations. Spruce abundance, storm damage and temperature are known to be important factors influencing the population dynamics of the European spruce bark beetle. Our study is the first to quantify the combined effects of spruce abundance and heat sum, whereby the heat sum turned out to be the most important and consistent predictor. Because our study area encompasses large ecological and climatological gradients, our model is likely to be applicable to Norway spruce forests in other regions of central Europe and Scandinavia.