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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Nov 23;107(47):20576-81. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010270107. Epub 2010 Nov 8.

Climatic warming disrupts recurrent Alpine insect outbreaks.

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Department of Biology, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA 70504, USA.


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 how interacting species with differential response rates to climate change can result in dramatic ecological changes.

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