Coupling mountain pine beetle and forest population dynamics predicts transient outbreaks that are likely to increase in number with climate change

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  • Mountain pine beetle (MPB) in Canada have spread well beyond their historical range. Accurate modelling of the long-term dynamics of MPB is critical for assessing the risk of further expansion and informing management strategies, particularly in the context of climate change and variable forest resilience. Most previous models have focused on capturing a single outbreak without tree replacement. While these models are useful for understanding MPB biology and outbreak dynamics, they cannot accurately model long-term forest dynamics. Past models that incorporate forest growth tend to simplify beetle dynamics. We present a new model that couples forest growth to MPB population dynamics and accurately captures key aspects of MPB biology, including a threshold for the number of beetles needed to overcome tree defenses and beetle aggregation that facilitates mass attacks. These mechanisms lead to a demographic Allee effect, which is known to be important in beetle population dynamics. We show that as forest resilience decreases, a fold bifurcation emerges and there is a stable fixed point with a non-zero MPB population. We derive conditions for the existence of this equilibrium. We then simulate biologically relevant scenarios and show that the beetle population approaches this equilibrium with transient boom and bust cycles with period related to the time of forest recovery. As forest resilience decreases, the Allee threshold also decreases. Thus, if host resilience decreases under climate change, for example under increased stress from drought, then the lower Allee threshold makes transient outbreaks more likely to occur in the future.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International