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Shifting altitudinal distribution of outbreak zones of winter moth Operophtera brumata in sub-arctic birch forest: a response to recent climate warming?

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Climatic change is expected to affect the extent and severity of geometrid moth outbreaks, a major disturbance factor in sub-arctic birch forests. Previous studies have reported that the two geometrid species involved, autumnal moth and winter moth, differ in their temperature requirements and, consequently, in their altitudinal and latitudinal distribution patterns. In this study, we document the altitudinal distribution of winter moth outbreaks in a large coastal area in northern Norway. We show that, in the present winter moth outbreak, defoliated birch stands were seen as distinct zones with a rather constant width in the uppermost part of the forest and where the upper limit coincided with the forest line. The outbreak zone closely followed the spatially variable forest line as an undulating belt, although some of the variation in outbreak zone width was also related to variation in topographical variables, such as distance from the coast, forest line altitude, and slope of the terrain. A distinct outbreak zone at the altitudinal forest line is the typical picture that has been depicted in more qualitative historical records on previous outbreaks of autumnal moth rather than winter moth. We suggest that the recent documented climate warming in this region may have induced a shift in distribution of the winter moth both relative to topography and geography. Further investigation is, however, required to substantiate these suspicions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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