Climatic warming disrupts recurrent Alpine insect outbreaks

Derek M. Johnson, Ulf Büntgen, David C. Frank, Kyrre Kausrud, Kyle J. Haynes, Andrew M. Liebhold, Jan Esper, Nils Chr Stenseth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

121 Scopus citations


Climate change has been identified as a causal factor for diverse ecological changes worldwide. Warming trends over the last couple of decades have coincided with the collapse of long-term population cycles in a broad range of taxa, although causal mechanisms are not well-understood. Larch budmoth (LBM) population dynamics across the European Alps, a classic example of regular outbreaks, inexplicably changed sometime during the 1980s after 1,200 y of nearly uninterrupted periodic outbreak cycles. Herein, analysis of perhaps the most extensive spatiotemporal dataset of population dynamics and reconstructed Alpine-wide LBM defoliation records reveals elevational shifts in LBM outbreak epicenters that coincide with temperature fluctuations over two centuries. A population model supports the hypothesis that temperature-mediated shifting of the optimal elevation for LBM population growth is the mechanism for elevational epicenter changes. Increases in the optimal elevation for population growth over the warming period of the last century to near the distributional limit of host larch likely dampened population cycles, thereby causing the collapse of a millennium-long outbreak cycle. The threshold-like change in LBM outbreak pattern highlights howinteracting species with differential response rates to climate change can result in dramatic ecological changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20576-20581
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 23 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Lepidoptera
  • Parasitoids
  • Traveling wave
  • Tree rings
  • Tri-trophic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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