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What causes outbreaks of the gypsy moth in North America?


The gypsy moth has been present in North America for more than 100 years, and in many of the areas where it has become established outbreaks occur with varying degrees of periodicity. There also exists extensive spatial synchrony in the onset of outbreaks over large geographic regions. Density-dependent mortality clearly limits high-density populations, but there is little evidence for strong regulation of low-density populations. Predation by small mammals appears to be the major source of mortality affecting low-density populations, but because these are generalist predators and gypsy moths are a less preferred food item, mammals do not appear to regulate populations in a density-dependent fashion. Instead, predation levels appear to be primarily determined by small mammal abundance, which is in turn closely linked to the production of acorns that are a major source of food for overwintering predator populations. Mast production by host oak trees is typically variable among years, but considerable spatial synchrony in masting exists over large geographic areas. Thus, it appears that the temporal and spatial patterns of mast production may be responsible for the episodic and spatially synchronous behavior of gypsy moth outbreaks in North America. This multitrophic relationship among mast, predators, and gypsy moths represents a very different explanation of forest insect outbreak dynamics than the more widely applied theories based upon predator–prey cycles or feedbacks with host foliage quality.

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Received: September 8, 1999 / Accepted: September 20, 2000

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Liebhold, A., Elkinton, J., Williams, D. et al. What causes outbreaks of the gypsy moth in North America?. Popul Ecol 42, 257–266 (2000).

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  • Key words Lepidoptera
  • Lymantriidae
  • Lymantria dispar
  • Predation
  • Synchrony
  • Outbreak