Dendroecological Analysis of Spruce Budworm Outbreaks and Their Relation to Climate near the Prairie–Forest Border in Northwestern Minnesota.

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Physical Geography

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Journal Article


Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences


This paper investigates the effects of spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) on balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and white spruce (Picea glauca) at Itasca State Park in northwestern Minnesota. We studied the species composition, age structure, and radial growth patterns in tree rings along five belt transects at sites infested with spruce budworm. Our objectives were to: (1) discover when the latest spruce budworm outbreak started; (2) determine whether tree growth was similarly reduced in earlier decades, suggesting earlier spruce budworm outbreaks; and (3) test whether radial tree growth and the start of the outbreak(s) were correlated with climate. We used the computer program OUTBREAK to determine that the current spruce budworm infestation began to reduce tree growth in the 1990s, before it was detected by park officials in 2001. The tree-ring record indicated that growth of the host-species trees was periodically reduced at all sites prior to the 1990s. We found no consistent relationship between temperature/precipitation and the initiation of spruce budworm outbreaks, as reconstructed by the OUTBREAK program, at the southwestern edge of the distribution of balsam fir. The Palmer Drought Severity Index, however, was positive (i.e., wetter-than-normal conditions) before increased spruce budworm activity at all sites. Outbreaks are related to climatic conditions, but they also depend on other factors such as the availability of sufficient food for the spruce budworm.

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