The influence of stand and landscape characteristics on forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) defoliation dynamics: the case of the 1999–2002 outbreak in northwestern Quebec

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The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria Hbn.) is an eruptive forest insect common across North America and an important defoliator of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.). Forest stands having suffered severe defoliations by the forest tent caterpillar over multiple years are known to incur reduced tree growth and increased tree mortality. In this study, we developed a predictive model of forest tent caterpillar defoliation dynamics using local and contextual variables expressing forest composition and structure, and their heterogeneity, at different scales. Of all scales considered (500, 1000, 1500, and 2000 m), contextual variables at 1500 m were found to have the greatest effect on defoliation dynamics. At this scale, we found that a greater proportion of preferred host trees in the landscape increased defoliation severity, but duration was modulated by compositional heterogeneity, where persistence was reduced in highly heterogeneous landscapes. Indeed, the likelihood of a single year of defoliation was much greater in highly diverse landscapes than the likelihood of multiple years of defoliation. These findings are consistent with ecological theory. Contrary to the expected result that older trees would be most susceptible, we found that “middle-aged” trees (~50 years) were most likely to be defoliated.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, Université du Québec à Montréal, 141 President-Kennedy Avenue, Montreal, QC H2X 1Y4, Canada. 2: Institut des Sciences de la Forêt tempérée, Université du Québec en Outaouais, 58 rue Principale, Ripon, QC J0V 1V0, Canada.

Publication date: October 1, 2012

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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