Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Threats to North American forests from southern pine beetle with warming winters


In coming decades, warmer winters are likely to ease range constraints on many cold-limited forest insects1,2,3,4,5. Recent unprecedented expansion of the southern pine beetle (SPB, Dendroctonus frontalis) into New Jersey, New York and Connecticut in concert with warming annual temperature minima highlights the risk that this insect pest poses to the pine forests of the northern United States and Canada under continued climate change6. Here we present projections of northward expansion in SPB-suitable climates using a statistical bioclimatic range modelling approach and current-generation general circulation model output under Representative Concentration Pathways 4.5 and 8.5. Results show that by the middle of the twenty-first century, the climate is likely to be suitable for SPB expansion into vast areas of previously unaffected forests throughout the northeastern United States and into southeastern Canada. This scenario would pose a significant economic and ecological risk to the affected regions, including disruption of local ecosystem services7, shifts in forest structure8, and threats to native biodiversity9.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Spatial correspondence between recent SPB expansion and warming annual minimum phloem temperatures.
Figure 2: Projected year of emergence of SPB-suitable climate, defined as the year for which minimum phloem temperature of −10 °C is not reached in the following decade.
Figure 3: Projected year of emergence of SPB-suitable climate using alternative definitions of SPB suitability.
Figure 4: Drivers of uncertainty in projected year of emergence of SPB-suitable climates.
Figure 5: Projected SPB expansion into ranges of forest types with suitable dominant pine species.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Paradis, A., Elkinton, J., Hayhoe, K. & Buonaccorsi, J. Role of winter temperature and climate change on the survival and future range expansion of the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) in eastern North America. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 13, 541–554 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Ogden, N. H. et al. Climate change and the potential for range expansion of the Lyme disease vector Ixodes scapularis in Canada. Int. J. Parasitol. 36, 63–70 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Rochlin, I., Ninivaggi, D. V., Hutchinson, M. L. & Farajollahi, A. Climate change and range expansion of the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) in Northeastern USA: implications for public health practitioners. PLoS ONE 8, 1–9 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ungerer, M. J., Ayres, M. P. & Lombardero, M. J. Climate and the northern distribution limits of Dendroctonus frontalis Zimmermann (Coleoptera: Scolytidae). J. Biogeogr. 26, 1133–1145 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Williams, D. W. & Liebhold, A. M. Climate change and the outbreak ranges of two North American bark beetles. Agric. For. Entomol. 4, 87–99 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Dodds, K. J. & Krist, F. Destructive Southern Pine Beetle Begins Invading Northeastern Forests – GIS Story Map (2015);

  7. Mikkelson, K. M. et al. Bark beetle infestation impacts on nutrient cycling, water quality and interdependent hydrological effects. Biogeochemistry 115, 1–21 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Harrington, T. B., Xu, M. G. & Edwards, M. B. Structural characteristics of late-successional pine-hardwood forest following recent infestation by southern pine beetle in the Georgia Piedmont, USA. Nat. Areas J. 20, 360–365 (2000).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Wagner, D., Nelson, M. W. & Schweitzer, D. F. Shrubland Lepidoptera of southern New England and southeastern New York: ecology, conservation, and management. For. Ecol. Manag. 185, 95–112 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Pye, J. M., Price, T. S., Clarke, S. R. & Huggett, R. J. A History of Southern Pine Beetle Outbreaks in the Southeastern United States through 2004 (USFS Southern Research Station, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  11. USFS Forest Health Highlights – New Jersey (Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry, 2014).

  12. Beal, J. A. Temperature extremes as a factor in the ecology of the southern Pine Beetle. J. Forest. 31, 329–336 (1933).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Lombardero, M. J., Ayres, M. P., Ayres, B. D. & Reeve, J. D. Cold tolerance of four species of bark beetle (Coleoptera: Scolytidae) in North America. Environ. Entomol. 29, 421–432 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Trân, J. K., Ylioja, T., Billings, R. F., Régnière, J. & Ayres, M. P. Impact of minimum winter temperatures on the population dynamics of Dendroctonus frontalis. Ecol. Appl. 17, 882–899 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Horton, R. et al. Chapter 16: Northeast. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment 371–395 (United States Global Research Program, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Sillmann, J., Kharin, V. V., Zwiers, F. W., Zhang, X. & Bronaugh, D. Climate extremes indices in the CMIP5 multimodel ensemble: Part 2. Future climate projections. J. Geophys. Res. 118, 2473–2493 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Horton, R. M., Coffel, E. D., Winter, J. M., Bader, D. A. & Al, H. E. T. Projected changes in extreme temperature events based on the NARCCAP model suite. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 1–10 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Nowak, J. T., Meeker, J. R., Coyle, D. R., Steiner, C. A. & Brownie, C. Southern Pine Beetle infestations in relation to forest stand conditions, previous thinning, southern Pine Beetle prevention program. J. Forest. 113, 1–9 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Ayres, M. P., Martinson, S. J. & Friedenberg, N. A. The Southern Pine Beetle Encyclopedia 75–89 (USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Iverson, L. R. & Mckenzie, D. Tree-species range shifts in a changing climate: detecting, modeling, assisting. Landsc. Ecol. 28, 879–889 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Wang, W. J., He, H. S., Thompson, F. R., Jacob, I. I. I. & Dijak, W. D. Changes in forest biomass and tree species distribution under climate change in the northeastern United States. Landsc. Ecol. 32, 1399–1413 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Thatcher, R. C., Searcy, J. L., Coster, J. E. & Hertel, G. D. The Southern Pine Beetle (United States Forest Service Science and Education Administration, 1980).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Turchin, P. & Thoeny, W. T. Quantifying dispersal of southern Pine Beetles with mark recapture experiments and a diffusion-model. Ecol. Appl. 3, 187–198 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Jackson, P. L., Straussfogel, D., Lindgren, B. S., Mitchell, S. & Murphy, B. Radar observation and aerial capture of mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopk. (Coleoptera: Scolytidae) in flight above the forest canopy. Can. J. Forest Res. 38, 2313–2327 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Berg, E. E., David Henry, J., Fastie, C. L., De Volder, A. D. & Matsuoka, S. M. Spruce beetle outbreaks on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, and Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon Territory: relationship to summer temperatures and regional differences in disturbance regimes. For. Ecol. Manag. 227, 219–232 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Kolb, T. E. et al. Observed and anticipated impacts of drought on forest insects and diseases in the United States. For. Ecol. Manag. 380, 321–334 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lorio, P. L., Stephen, F. M. & Paine, T. D. Environment and ontogeny modify loblolly pine response to induced acute water deficits and bark beetle attack. For. Ecol. Manag. 73, 97–110 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Sullivan, B. T., Fettig, C. J., Otrosina, W. J., Dalusky, M. J. & Berisford, C. W. Association between severity of prescribed burns and subsequent activity of conifer-infesting beetles in stands of longleaf pine. For. Ecol. Manag. 185, 327–340 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Wolcott, A. B. Catalogue of North American beetles of the Family Cleridae. Fieldiana Zoology (Chicago Natural History Museum, 1947).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Collins, M. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Mesinger, F. et al. North American Regional Reanalysis. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 87, 343–360 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. USFS Forest Health Protection and its Partners (USDA Forest Service, 2015).

  33. Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. a. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Moss, R. H. et al. The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature 463, 747–756 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Kanamitsu, M. et al. NCEP–DOE AMIP-II Reanalysis (R-2). Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 83, 1631–1643 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Gordon, H. et al. The CSIRO Mk3 climate system model. CSIRO Atmos. Res. Tech. Pap. 60, 1–130 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  37. Prasad, A. M. & Iverson, L. R. Little’s Range and FIA Importance Value Database for 135 Eastern US Tree Species (Northeastern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  38. Wilson, B. T., Lister, A. J., Riemann, R. I. & Griffith, D. M. Live Tree Species Basal Area of the Contiguous United States (2000–2009) (USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP, the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. US Department of Interior Northeast Climate Science Center provided funding for this research along with support from the National Science Foundation grant DGE-11-44155.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



C.L. and E.C. conceived and coordinated this research and performed modelling and analysis. A.W.D. and K.D. contributed data and methods. All authors discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Corey Lesk.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 2370 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lesk, C., Coffel, E., D’Amato, A. et al. Threats to North American forests from southern pine beetle with warming winters. Nature Clim Change 7, 713–717 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing