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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Corey Lesk.

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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).

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