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Extensive gypsy moth defoliation in Southern New England characterized using Landsat satellite observations


Southern New England is currently experiencing the first major gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) defoliation event in nearly 30 years. Using a novel approach based on time series of Landsat satellite observations, we generated consistent maps of gypsy moth defoliation for 2015 (first year of the outbreak), 2016 (second year of outbreak), and 2017 (third year of outbreak). Our mapped results demonstrate that the defoliation event continued through the 2017 growing season. Moreover, the affected area more than doubled in extent each year and expanded radially to encompass 4386 km2 of forested area in Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, and central Massachusetts. The current gypsy moth outbreak is believed to be the result of a series of unusually dry springs in 2014, 2015, and 2016, which suppressed Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungal mortality agent that has historically reduced gypsy moth impacts in this region. The continuation and marked expansion of the outbreak in 2017 despite average spring rainfall suggests that caterpillars were active early in the growing season, and mortality from the fungus likely peaked after significant defoliation had already occurred. Our Landsat time series approach represents an important new source of data on spatial and temporal patterns in gypsy moth defoliation, and continued satellite-based monitoring will be essential for tracking the progress of this and other gypsy moth outbreaks.

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The project described in this publication was supported by Grant or Cooperative Agreement No. G12AC00001 from the United States Geological Survey. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center or the USGS. This manuscript is submitted for publication with the understanding that the United States Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes. The authors would like to thank Jeff Boettner, Emily Fusco, Brittany Laginhas, Eve Beaury, Caroline Curtis, and our three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Valerie J. Pasquarella.

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Pasquarella, V.J., Elkinton, J.S. & Bradley, B.A. Extensive gypsy moth defoliation in Southern New England characterized using Landsat satellite observations. Biol Invasions 20, 3047–3053 (2018).

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  • Gypsy moth
  • Lymantria dispar
  • Defoliation
  • Entomophaga maimaiga
  • New England
  • Remote sensing