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Insect infestation models may shed light on insect and disease outbreaks

Models of Larch budmoth outbreaks in the European Alps may eventually show scientists how to model a variety of disease and insect eruptions that rely on a combination of enemy, host and spatial movement to decimate populations, according to a team of ecologists.

"We use theoretical models to help understand the spatial component in these outbreaks and to predict how spatial spread occurs," says Dr. Ottar N. Bjornstad, assistant professor of entomology and biology at Penn State. "With local outbreaks we expect a complex spread of pest species through the landscape, here, the species spreads in waves."

The Larch budmoth feeds on larch trees, a common evergreen variety, consuming the needles and defoliating the branches. In the European Alps, the infestation moves as predictable waves from west to east completely defoliating forests beginning in the French and Italian Alps and moving across the continent through Switzerland and into Austria.

Bjornstad; M. Peltonen and A.M. Liebhold of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and W. Baltensweiler, retired from the Swiss Institute of Technology, Zurich, report in today's (Nov. 1) Science that "forty years of detailed surveys of defoliation caused by the Larch budmoth testify to conspicuous waves in the space-time dynamics of this system.

Creating models that predict this wave spread required consideration of the pest, its parasites, and the geographic distribution of the Larch. The historic pattern of Larch outbreaks is outbreaks that occur about every nine years and last for three to four years. The researchers confirmed that the spread of the outbreaks occurred in traveling waves and that space-time models accurately predict the geographic spread and timing of the outbreaks.

The Larch budmoth never dies out in any area of the Alps even though it totally defoliates an area. A small number of insects remain, feeding off resources left behind. While the larch trees recover, the bu
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Contact: A'ndrea Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
31-Oct-2002


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