Occurrence and effects of Nosema fumiferanae infections on adult spruce budworm caught above and within the forest canopy
1 Nosema fumiferanae infections in populations of both sexes of spruce budworm Choristoneura fumiferana moths, collected live above the forest canopy (canopy moths), within the tree crown (crown moths) and in drop trays (dead moths), were examined over a 5-year period in New Brunswick, Canada.
2 The incidence of infection and of moderate–heavy infections in canopy and crown moths of both sexes increased concomitantly with moth eclosion, indicating that N. fumiferanae retards larval/pupal development, with infected moths, particularly those having higher disease loads, emerging later in the season.
3 Infection rates differed among canopy, crown, and dead female, but not male, moths. Canopy (i.e. emigrating) females had a lower incidence of infection, lower incidence of moderate–heavy infections, and had longer forewings and higher dry weights, than crown females. These results suggest that N. fumiferanae infections negatively affect aspects of female, but not male, flight performance. Regardless of infection, forewing length and dry weight of both canopy and crown females declined over the moth flight period, but infected females in both moth types were smaller than their uninfected counterparts. Forewing lengths and dry weights of moderately–heavily infected females were most severely affected.
4 Despite high annual infection rates in parents, only a small percentage of offspring (second-instar larvae) that established feeding sites each spring were infected, indicating that high rates of horizontal transmission occurred annually throughout the larval period.
5 The present study indicates that whether N. fumiferanae infections are a debilitating sublethal factor in spruce budworm populations depends more on the disease load than on the overall incidence of infection. The potential importance of N. fumiferanae infections on various fitness parameters related to host dispersal is discussed.