Multiyear weather anomalies associated with range shifts by the mountain pine beetle preceding large epidemics

Kishan R. Sambaraju, Allan L. Carroll, Brian H. Aukema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The recent range expansion of the mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopk. (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), into evolutionarily naïve lodgepole and jack pine forests of northwestern Canada has triggered concern that continued eastward expansion through the boreal forest will threaten other pine species native to eastern North America. This unprecedented breach of a historic geoclimatic barrier was precipitated by a “hyperepidemic” west of the Rocky Mountains comprising the largest mountain pine beetle eruption in recorded history. We assessed climate-related latitudinal shifts of pre-outbreak populations of mountain pine beetle in western Canada over a 26-year period preceding the hyperepidemic, as movements of pre-outbreak populations determine, in part, the extent of subsequent outbreaks. We used digitized records of annual aerial overview surveys (1965–1979, 1986–1996) of tree-killing activity, comprising > 122,000 individual infestation polygons, and temperature and aridity data to associate trends in deviations of weather variables from historical averages with latitudinal shifts by the insect. Overall, we found that seasonal and multiyear weather phenomena such as anomalous temperature increases in a stable aridity regime, or vice-versa, and warmer-than-normal winter temperatures explained small but significant variation in northward annual range shifts after factoring out spatial and temporal variation. The numbers of discrete, tree-killing infestations increased rapidly during 1965–1979, and northward range shifts of 300 km in the early 1970s coincided with abnormally dry conditions. Mountain pine beetle populations advanced northward by 391 km from 1965 to 1996. Consistently high infestation levels of the mountain pine beetle occurred simultaneously with above-average temperatures that extended for nearly a decade immediately preceding the hyperepidemic. Climate-associated range shifts can provide gateways to rapid range expansions, and evoke concern with regard to future impacts of other bark beetle species inhabiting regions likely to experience multiyear droughts and/or temperature increases under climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-95
Number of pages10
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Natural Resources Canada , the British Columbia Forest Sciences Program (BCFSP), the TRIA II project of Genome British Columbia, Genome Alberta, and Genome Canada, NSERC Discovery , and the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences for providing funds for this research. The funding agencies did not play a role in this research including design; execution; data analysis and interpretation; or submission of the results for publication. We thank Jacques Régnière (Canadian Forest Service) for helpful discussions and support with regard to BioSIM, and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that helped improve the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Climate change
  • Dendroctonus ponderosae
  • Drought
  • Hyperepidemic
  • Latitude
  • Lodgepole pine
  • Temperature


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