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New DE&L publication on climate change and invasive insects out now in PloS ONE!

posted Aug 25, 2014, 11:13 AM by Alec Kretchun   [ updated Aug 26, 2014, 8:30 AM by ]
Exciting new work out of the Dynamic Ecosystems and Landscapes Lab investigates how climate change and gypsy moths may change the forests of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. This publication represents the completion of a 10 year collaboration with the Forest Service Northern Research Station, and one of the most thorough bodies of recent ensemble research of Northeastern forests. 

Though previous work has focused on how the climate of tomorrow might change these ecologically unique and important landscapes, this new study demonstrates the effects of a major insect pest in the region - gypsy moths. As is becoming far too common knowledge in New England, these insects can do tremendous damage to a forest; not by burrowing into and killing trees like bark beetles in the western US, but by eating the leaves right off the branches, primarily from broad-leaved trees like oaks. This 'defoliation' might not kill the tree the first year, but few trees can last consecutive years of attack - attacks which can last 3-5 years. This kind of damage can have major implications for how a forest functions, especially as the days become hotter over the next century. The question then was, given that climate change will likely decrease the amount of carbon in these forests, will gypsy moths decrease it even further? And given the moths noted preference for oak trees, will outbreaks change the composition of the forest in the long term?

Using landscape models in conjunction with field data, researchers at Portland State University discovered that gypsy moths may actually affect landscape carbon storage very little. These forests are able to rebound from insect outbreaks relatively quickly, showing modest carbon losses. The more surprising result from this study was that, despite the moths clear preference for broad-leaved trees, the amount of oaks actually increased over time. Though the moths prefer these trees, during an outbreak they become much less picky, feeding on whatever tree they happen to be on. Because pine trees can die after just a single year of defoliation, whereas oaks can typically survive up to 3, oak trees fared better over the long term. 

This paper marks the culmination of an extremely successful collaboration between PSU and the USDA Forest Service, producing 6 peer-reviewed publications and helping better understand the changes happening in these forests. A full list of these pubs and all collaborators can be found on our 'Research' page here. Any questions on this newest paper can be directed to Alec Kretchun, who can be found on our 'People' page here.