Silva Fennica : quarterly issues : 30(2–3) : sa3023281.htm

R.A. Fleming. 1996.

A mechanistic perspective of possible influences of climate change on defoliating insects in North America's boreal forests

Silva Fennica 30(2–3): 281–294

There is no doubt that tree survival, growth, and reproduction in North America’s boreal forest would be directly influenced by the projected changes in climate if they occur. The indirect effects of climate change may be of even greater importance, however, because of their potential for altering the intensity, frequency, and perhaps even the very nature of the disturbance regimes which drive boreal forest dynamics.

Insect defoliator populations are one of the dominating disturbance factors in North America’s boreal forests and during outbreaks trees are often killed over vast forest areas. If the predicted shifts in climate occur, the damage patterns caused by insects may be considerably changed, particularly those of insects whose temporal and spatial distributions are singularly dependent on climatic factors. The ensuing uncertainties directly affect depletion forecasts, pest hazard rating procedures, and long-term planning for pest control requirements. Because the potential for wildfire often increases in stands after insect attack, uncertainties in future insect damage patterns also lead to uncertainties in fire regimes. In addition, because the rates of processes key to biogeochemical and nutrient recycling are influenced by insect damage, potential changes in damage patterns can indirectly affect ecosystem resilience and the sustainability of the multiple uses of the forest resource.

In this paper, a mechanistic perspective is developed based on available information describing how defoliatoring forest insects might respond to climate warming. Because of its prevalence and long history of study, the spruce budworm, Choristoneura fumiferana Clem. (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae), is used for illustrative purposes in developing this perspective. The scenarios that follow outline the potential importance of threshold behavior, historical conditions, phenological relationships, infrequent but extreme weather, complex feedbacks, and natural selection. The urgency of such considerations is emphasized by reference to research suggesting that climate warming may already be influencing some insect lifecycles.

Choristoneura fumiferana, phenological relationships, plant quality, natural selection, extreme weather, thresholds, historical factors, Abies balsamea

Canadian Forest Service - Sault Ste. Marie, PO Box 490, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada P6A 5M7. Fax +1 705 759 5700, E-mail

Received 18 August 1995 Accepted 16 July 1996
ISSN 0037-5330