Disease ontogeny overshadows effects of climate and species interactions on population dynamics in a nonnative forest disease complex


Biotic threats to trees often arise from interactions among two or more species, frequently insects and fungi, that function together to defeat host defenses, secure resources and colonize new hosts. Feedbacks among plant enemies can have large effects on host population and disease dynamics, either by promoting stabilizing negative feedbacks or contributing to positive feedbacks that can destabilize populations and permit outbreaks. Feedbacks can be rapid and direct (e.g. within trees or among years) or can arise from slowly developing changes in host resource quantity or quality at the scale of for- est stands or landscapes. Climate may also influence system dynamics by altering feedbacks within or among species or through density independent effects. We evaluated major drivers of population dynamics of beech bark disease (BBD), an important forest disease in eastern deciduous forests of North America, using data from 28 study sites in the eastern United States monitored for up to 14 yr between 1979 and 1992. Both primary causal agents of BBD – the introduced felted beech scale Cryptococcus fagisuga and native fungi Neonectria spp. – showed strong simple density dependence in all study populations. Surprisingly, densities of scale insects and fungi had little or no effects on population growth rates of the other, despite their habit of living in close physical relationships. For both insects and fungi, ecologically important features of the density dependent functions (slope, carrying capacity and density independent variance) were variable across sites. Climatic effects on density-dependent functions (and scatter around them) were evident but generally weak and variable. The most striking predictor of patterns in density dependence was duration since establishment of BBD in the region. Apparently BBD alters forests over decades in ways that strengthen self-regulation among causal agents without eliminating or even dramatically reducing host populations.



doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2011.06938.x

Last updated on 02/07/2017