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Oecologia. 2009 May;160(2):353-65. doi: 10.1007/s00442-009-1290-4. Epub 2009 Feb 14.

Summer temperature dependency of larch budmoth outbreaks revealed by Alpine tree-ring isotope chronologies.

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  • 1Paul Scherrer Institut, 5232 Villigen PSI, Switzerland.


Larch budmoth (LBM, Zeiraphera diniana Gn.) outbreaks cause discernable physical alteration of cell growth in tree rings of host subalpine larch (Larix decidua Mill.) in the European Alps. However, it is not clear if these outbreaks also impact isotopic signatures in tree-ring cellulose, thereby masking climatic signals. We compared LBM outbreak events in stable carbon and oxygen isotope chronologies of larch and their corresponding tree-ring widths from two high-elevation sites (1800-2200 m a.s.l.) in the Swiss Alps for the period AD 1900-2004 against isotope data obtained from non-host spruce (Picea abies). At each site, two age classes of tree individuals (150-250 and 450-550 years old) were sampled. Inclusion of the latter age class enabled one chronology to be extended back to AD 1650, and a comparison with long-term monthly resolved temperature data. Within the constraints of this local study, we found that: (1) isotopic ratios in tree rings of larch provide a strong and consistent climatic signal of temperature; (2) at all sites the isotope signatures were not disturbed by LBM outbreaks, as shown, for example, by exceptionally high significant correlations between non-host spruce and host larch chronologies; (3) below-average July to August temperatures and LBM defoliation events have been coupled for more than three centuries. Dampening of Alps-wide LBM cyclicity since the 1980s and the coincidence of recently absent cool summers in the European Alps reinforce the assumption of a strong coherence between summer temperatures and LBM defoliation events. Our results demonstrate that stable isotopes in tree-ring cellulose of larch are an excellent climate proxy enabling the analysis of climate-driven changes of LBM cycles in the long term.

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