Southern pine beetle regional outbreaks modeled on landscape, climate and infestation history
The southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis, SPB) is the major insect pest of pine species in the southeastern United States. It attains outbreak population levels sufficient to mass attack host pines across the landscape at scales ranging from a single forest stand to interstate epidemics. This county level analysis selected and examined the best climatic and landscape variables for predicting infestations at regional scales. The analysis showed that, for a given county, the most important factor in predicting outbreaks was that the county was classified as in outbreak status in the previous year. Other important factors included minimum winter temperature and the greatest difference between the average of daily minimums and a subsequent low temperature point, precipitation history either seasonally in the previous year or difference from average over the previous 2 years, the synchronizing effect of seasonal temperatures on beetle populations and the relative percentage of total forest area composed of host species. The statistical models showed that climatic variables are stronger indicators of outbreak likelihood than landscape structure and cover variables. Average climatic conditions were more likely to lead to outbreaks than extreme conditions, supporting the notion of coupling between a native insect and its native host. Still, some extreme events (i.e., periods of very low temperature or very high precipitation) did precede beetle infestation. This analysis suggested that there are predisposing and inciting factors at the large scale but the driving factors leading to individual infestations operate at smaller scales.