Could the lateral transfer of nutrients by outbreaking insects be a relevant landscape-level biogeochemical process?

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  • The processes that transfer nutrients laterally over large distances are limited within ter-restrial ecosystems. Here, we present the hypothesis that outbreaking insects can sometimes transport consequential amounts of embodied nutrients over long distances, thereby connecting ecological dy-namics across space and leading to potential emergent effects at the landscape scale that have not been specifically addressed heretofore. Based on previously published data on insect population density, individual body mass, and nutrient content, we present initial quantitative estimates of nitrogen and phosphorus fluxes for various outbreaking insect species in different ecosystems. The results suggest that during the phases of major population change within an outbreak cycle, this process may trans-fer, over a given area, amounts of nutrients that exceed annual input from contemporaneous levels of atmospheric deposition, particularly for phosphorus. In addition, the relative strength of the process was likely even higher in the preindustrial era, especially for nitrogen, due to a weaker anthropogenic influence on atmospheric deposition at that time. The values we have found are comparable to the re-sults from previous studies on 2- D nutrient fluxes by other animals and that have been considered con-sequential for ecosystem processes. We further illustrate the implications of the process for the spatial distribution of nutrients and resulting ecological complexity and argue that the process is inherently scale dependent, contrary to vertical fluxes like atmospheric deposition. Moreover, we provide sugges-tions for future studies, both empirical and theoretical, that would better quantify the strength of the process and assess its implications. Given that the productivity of most natural terrestrial ecosystems depends primarily on locally recycled nutrients and that spatial source–sink nutrient dynamics has been shown to have important ecological consequences, the long- distance lateral transfer of nutrients by outbreaking insects appears like a relevant landscape- level process worthwhile of more specific attention.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution 4.0 International
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    • Landry, J. S., & Parrott, L. (2016). Could the lateral transfer of nutrients by outbreaking insects be a relevant landscape-level biogeochemical process? Ecosphere, 7(3), e01265.