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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Mar 7;274(1610):671-9.

1200 years of regular outbreaks in alpine insects.

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  • 1Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland.


The long-term history of Zeiraphera diniana Gn. (the larch budmoth, LBM) outbreaks was reconstructed from tree rings of host subalpine larch in the European Alps. This record was derived from 47513 maximum latewood density measurements, and highlights the impact of contemporary climate change on ecological disturbance regimes. With over 1000 generations represented, this is the longest annually resolved record of herbivore population dynamics, and our analysis demonstrates that remarkably regular LBM fluctuations persisted over the past 1173 years with population peaks averaging every 9.3 years. These regular abundance oscillations recurred until 1981, with the absence of peak events during recent decades. Comparison with an annually resolved, millennium-long temperature reconstruction representative for the European Alps (r=0.72, correlation with instrumental data) demonstrates that regular insect population cycles continued despite major climatic changes related to warming during medieval times and cooling during the Little Ice Age. The late twentieth century absence of LBM outbreaks, however, corresponds to a period of regional warmth that is exceptional with respect to the last 1000+ years, suggesting vulnerability of an otherwise stable ecological system in a warming environment.

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