Contribution of climate vs. larch budmoth outbreaks in regulating biomass accumulation in high-elevation forests

Richard L. Peters, Stefan Klesse, Patrick Fonti, David C. Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Forest growth and biomass response to environmental change depends upon climatic, but also upon interactions with biotic drivers, such as insect outbreak activity. In this study we use tree-rings along a temperature gradient to assess the relative importance of climate versus altered larch budmoth (Zeiraphera diniana) outbreak cycles for forest biomass accumulation at high elevations. We established climate-growth relationships and performed outbreak-growth response analysis for >500 individuals from host (Larix decidua) and non-host trees (Picea abies) at different elevations (from 1300 to 2200 m a.s.l.) in the Swiss Alps. We quantified outbreak-induced reductions of absolute biomass increment and modelled effects of the recent absence of outbreaks. Our results reveal that average outbreaks reduced biomass accumulation by 1130 kg ha−1 y−1 during the four years after the event, having an equal or even greater impact on carbon sequestration than climate. Recent growth increases previously observed at the study sites are largely attributable to the outbreaks absence since 1981, suggesting that regular outbreaks have hampered host-trees from realizing their growth potential for centuries. The presented impact analysis quantifies the importance of non-lethal insect activity on forest biomass dynamics, revealing the relevance of including such biotic drivers and their interactions with climate in models assessing the future productivity and carbon sink capacity of forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-158
Number of pages12
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • European Alps
  • Forest biomass
  • Insect outbreak
  • Long-term growth change
  • Tree-ring analysis
  • Zeiraphera diniana

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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