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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Interrupting the red oak borer cycle and cooling the impacts of climate warming

As the climate warms, trees, insects, and the relationships between them are affected. A new modeling study examines the red oak borer and its interactions between host trees and climate. The research shows how forest management can interrupt the oak borer cycle, which would protect eastern hardwood forests from climate change.

A cross section of a tree trunk, showing the holes left by the red oak borer
Both climate change and forest management affect the red oak borer. New research shows how forest management can mediate the effect a warmer climate will have on insect populations. USDA Forest Service photo by Marty Spetich.

Climate change affects trees and insect pests directly and indirectly. For insects, longer summers mean more time to reproduce and increased populations. This is a direct effect of climate change. Many broad-scale forest models only consider direct effects. However, a new study shows that indirect effects—such as changes to forest composition—can mediate direct effects.

The research team modeled a tree-insect relationship in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma: oaks and the red oak borer. Since the 1990s, red oak borer caused significant mortality to oaks in this region. Their results suggest that as the climate warms, changes to forests will affect red oak borer populations more than warmer temperatures.

The findings provide a basis for forest management strategies that can both interrupt red oak borer cycles and reduce the impacts of climate warming on eastern hardwood forests. The researchers identify forest management practices to minimize damage from the red oak borer at different timeframes. For oak stands already in decline from epidemic oak-borer attack, salvage logging can reduce red oak food sources for the insects. Other prescriptions can protect vulnerable red oak forests under novel climate conditions. Medium- and long-term strategies include thinning the red oak food source and managing to promote white oak, shortleaf pine, and other native tree species.

These forest management strategies can boost forest health and help minimize carbon, ecological, and economic losses. The research results will inform future modeling studies about the impacts of climate change.

Principal Investigators
Marty Spetich, Research Forest Ecologist
4157 - Upland Hardwood Ecology and Management
Strategic Program Areas
Invasive Species
Inventory and Monitoring
Outdoor Recreation
Resource Management and Use
Water, Air, and Soil
Wildland Fire and Fuels
Wildlife and Fish
Indirect effects mediate direct effects of climate warming on insect disturbance regimes of temperate broadleaf forests in the central U.S.
Research Partners
Jacob S. Fraser - Northern Research Station
Frank R. Thompson - Northern Research Station
External Partners
Shengwu Duan - University of Missouri
Hong S. He - University of Missouri
Wen J. Wang - Chinese Academy of Sciences, Changchun