Spatial dynamics of a gypsy moth defoliation outbreak and dependence on habitat characteristics

Jane R. Foster, Philip A. Townsend, David J. Mladenoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Forest insects cause defoliation disturbances with complex spatial dynamics. These are difficult to measure but critical for models of disturbance risk that inform forest management. Understanding of spatial dynamics has lagged behind other disturbance processes because traditional defoliation sketch map data often suffered from inadequate precision or spatial resolution. We sought to clarify the influence of underlying habitat characteristics on outbreak patterns by combining forest plots, GIS data and defoliation intensity maps modeled from Landsat imagery. We quantified dependence of defoliation on spatial patterns of host abundance, phenology, topography, and pesticide spray for a recent gypsy moth outbreak (2000-2001), in a mixed deciduous forest in western Maryland, USA. We used semivariograms and hierarchical partitioning to quantify spatial patterns and variable importance. Habitat characteristics from plot data explained 21 % of defoliation variance in 2000 from tree density, phenological asynchrony, pesticide spray status, and landform index and 34 % of the variance in 2001 from previous-year defoliation, relative abundance of non-host species, phenological asynchrony, pesticide spray status, and relative slope position. Spatial autocorrelation in residual defoliation ranged over distances of 788 m in 2000 and 461 m in 2001, corresponding well with gypsy moth larval dispersal distances (100 m to 1 km). Un-measured processes such as predation, virus and pathogen occurrence likely contribute to unexplained variance. Because the spatial dynamics of these factors are largely unknown, our results support modeling gypsy moth defoliation as a function of dependence on significant exogenous characteristics and residual spatial pattern matching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1307-1320
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 25 2013


  • Appalachians
  • Dispersal
  • Forest disturbance
  • Geostatistics
  • Landsat
  • Lymantria dispar L.
  • Phenology
  • Semivariograms
  • Spatial patterns

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