Determinants and consequences of plant–insect phenological synchrony for a non-native herbivore on a deciduous conifer: implications for invasion success

Abstract

Phenological synchrony between herbivorous insects and host plants is an important determinant of insect distribution and abundance. Non-native insects often experience novel climates, photoperiods, and host plants. How critical time periods of insect life cycles coincide with—or diverge from—phenological windows of host plant suitability could affect invasion success and the dynamics of outbreaks. Larch casebearer is an invasive defoliator that has recently undergone anomalous outbreaks on eastern larch in North America. We conducted growth chamber, greenhouse, and field studies to quantify the spring phenological window for larch casebearer on eastern larch and importance of phenological synchrony for casebearer development and survival. We constructed degree-day models of spring activity for both species and investigated responses of casebearers to early and delayed activation relative to bud break. Both species had lower developmental thresholds of  ~ 5 °C, but mean activation of casebearers occurred 245 degree-days after bud break by eastern larch. In addition to forcing temperatures, phenologies of eastern larch and casebearer larvae were significantly influenced by chilling and photoperiod, respectively. Larvae were robust to both starvation and delayed activation; days between larval activation and bud break (range: 0–58 days) had no influence on larval development and survival to adulthood. Disparate plant-insect responses to environmental cues and robustness of casebearers to changes in phenology result in a wide phenological window that likely has contributed to the insect’s broad distribution in eastern North America. Changes in phenological synchrony, however, do not appear to have facilitated recent outbreaks of larch casebearer on eastern larch.

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Data accessibility statement

The data supporting the results are available from the Data Repository for University of Minnesota (DRUM): https://doi.org/10.13020/0bdt-m193.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Aubree Kees (University of Minnesota) for laboratory assistance. The manuscript benefitted greatly from insightful criticisms of anonymous referees. Funding was provided by USDA Forest Service award 15-DG-1142004-237, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station project MIN-17-095, and a University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship to SW.

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SW conceived, designed, and executed the study and wrote the initial draft of the manuscript. RM, DH, and BA made substantial contributions to the experimental design, analyses, and writing of subsequent drafts.

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Correspondence to Samuel F. Ward.

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Communicated by Ian Kaplan.

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Ward, S.F., Moon, R.D., Herms, D.A. et al. Determinants and consequences of plant–insect phenological synchrony for a non-native herbivore on a deciduous conifer: implications for invasion success. Oecologia 190, 867–878 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04465-2

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Keywords

  • Coleophora laricella
  • Climate
  • Herbivore
  • Larix laricina
  • Lepidoptera
  • Phenology