Climate and weather influences on spatial temporal patterns of mountain pine beetle populations in Washington and Oregon


  • Corresponding Editor: J. D. Reeve.


Widespread outbreaks of mountain pine beetle in North America have drawn the attention of scientists, forest managers, and the public. There is strong evidence that climate change has contributed to the extent and severity of recent outbreaks. Scientists are interested in quantifying relationships between bark beetle population dynamics and trends in climate. Process models that simulate climate suitability for mountain pine beetle outbreaks have advanced our understanding of beetle population dynamics; however, there are few studies that have assessed their accuracy across multiple outbreaks or at larger spatial scales. This study used the observed number of trees killed by mountain pine beetles per square kilometer in Oregon and Washington, USA, over the past three decades to quantify and assess the influence of climate and weather variables on beetle activity over longer time periods and larger scales than previously studied. Influences of temperature and precipitation in addition to process model output variables were assessed at annual and climatological time scales. The statistical analysis showed that new attacks are more likely to occur at locations with climatological mean August temperatures >15°C. After controlling for beetle pressure, the variables with the largest effect on the odds of an outbreak exceeding a certain size were minimum winter temperature (positive relationship) and drought conditions in current and previous years. Precipitation levels in the year prior to the outbreak had a positive effect, possibly an indication of the influence of this driver on brood size. Two-year cumulative precipitation had a negative effect, a possible indication of the influence of drought on tree stress. Among the process model variables, cold tolerance was the strongest indicator of an outbreak increasing to epidemic size. A weather suitability index developed from the regression analysis indicated a 2.5× increase in the odds of outbreak at locations with highly suitable weather vs. locations with low suitability. The models were useful for estimating expected amounts of damage (total area with outbreaks) and for quantifying the contribution of climate to total damage. Overall, the results confirm the importance of climate and weather on the spatial expansion of bark beetle outbreaks over time.