Canadian Forest Service Publications

Density has more influence than drought on spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) performance under outbreak conditions. 2019. Moise, E.R.D.; Lavigne, M.B.; Johns, R.C. Forest Ecology and Management 433: 170-175.

Year: 2019

Available from: Atlantic Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39640

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Abstract

Eruptive insect pests have significant impacts on the structure and function of forest ecosystems. Outbreaks of spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) (Clem.), for instance, occur approximately every 35–40 years, resulting in the loss of millions of hectares of spruce–fir forests in eastern North America. In addition to the density-dependent relationships that drive insect outbreaks, rising populations often coincide with drought events, which are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity in response to climate change. However, as populations approach the eruptive phase, consequences of intraspecific competition may outweigh the benefit of host water stress. The objective of our study was to quantify defoliation and insect performance responses to the interactive effects of drought and density of spruce budworm. To test for these interactions, we established a manipulative field experiment in a mature, balsam fir-dominated forest stand using a combination of single-tree rainout shelters and sleeve-caged insect larvae at four different densities: 0, 25, 50, or 100 individuals. Defoliation of 1-year old shoots, but not current-year shoots, significantly increased in response to higher insect densities. Density also had a significant, negative effect on budworm percent survival, although the total number of recovered adults remained highest in the high density treatment. Adult female body mass was significantly reduced in response to increased density, but only on droughted trees. Lastly, male wing length was significantly decreased in response to increased density. Overall, our results demonstrate that across a broad range of outbreak densities, rain exclusion had a minor impact. Accordingly, we anticipate that as insect pest populations approach epidemic levels, the influence of density on defoliation, insect survival, and body condition is likely to outweigh the impact of moderate drought stress.

Plain Language Summary

Outbreaks of insect forest pests often coincide with drought events; these are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity in response to climate change. However, as populations approach their peak, consequences of crowding and competition may outweigh the benefit of host water stress. The objective of our study was to measure defoliation and insect performance responses to the interactive effects of drought and density of spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana). To test for these interactions, we established a manipulative field experiment in a balsam fir forest stand using a combination of drought shelters and sleeve-caged insects at three different densities: 25, 50, or 100 individuals. We observed that defoliation of 1-year old shoots, but not current-year shoots, increased in response to higher insect densities. Secondly, density had a significant effect on spruce budworm survival and body condition, with the nature of consequences for the latter being highly sex specific. Surprisingly, drought had very little effect on any measured parameters, potentially due to a mismatch in timing between budworm developmental and the manifestation of drought symptoms in host trees. Overall, our results demonstrate that across a broad range of outbreak densities, rain exclusion had a very minor impact. Accordingly, we anticipate that as insect pest populations approach the outbreak peak, the influence of density on insect feeding and performance will outweigh the impact of drought

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