Responses of temperate forest productivity to insect and pathogen disturbances

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Miquel A Gonzalez-Meler and Charles Elliot Flower, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, United States
Climate forcing factors have been documented to directly (e.g. CO2 fertilization) or indirectly (e.g. temperature and vapor pressure deficit) affect net primary productivity (NPP) of forests. Climate variations can also affect the vulnerability of forests to pests and pathogens, causing diffuse or widespread mortality. The introduction of novel pests is causing rapid mortality of targeted species with undetermined effects on forest productivity: NPP could decrease or increase depending on the severity (proportion of basal area impacted) and species diversity. We attempted to document the impact of diffuse mortality caused by insect outbreaks on North American temperate forests through synthesis of literature. Despite the large number of studies (>500) only a few (12) documented NPP in a systematic manner. The magnitude of insect and pathogen disturbance was larger in western than eastern forests due to the redundancy and functional diversity of temperate deciduous and mixed deciduous forests. Recovery from disturbance was more rapid from diffuse short duration defoliation events relative to the long lasting impacts of wood boring insects. Forest resilience may decrease as insect disturbance increases, particularly with generalist invasive pests that target a variety of species. We conclude that these biotic interactions, particularly when caused by invasive pests, impose biological forcing to forest NPP at similar magnitude and time scales than climate forcing.