Temperature affects phenological synchrony in a tree-killing bark beetle
Phenological synchrony can promote population growth in species with positive density dependence. Variation among life stages in the thermal thresholds for development can foster phenological synchrony under thermal regimes that include frequent occurrence of temperatures between developmental thresholds. The southern pine beetle is an insect with positive density dependence that has recently undergone important shifts in population abundance at the northern extremes of their distribution. We evaluated the hypothesis that cooler winter temperatures in their northern range cause a convergence of the population life stage structure that leads to synchrony in spring flight phenology. We used a combination of approaches. First, in situ laboratory experiments demonstrated a threshold temperature for pupation that was greater than was required for larval development; rearing larvae at lower temperatures increased the pooling of individuals at the end stage of larval development and synchrony in adult emergence. Second, a development rate model showed a similar convergence of the majority of the population at the end stage of larval development when brood experienced the cooler temperatures of the northern region, but not with temperatures from the southern region, or as a null model. Finally, field trapping of wild beetles showed greater synchrony in the pine forests of New Jersey than in the warmer, historically occupied forests of Georgia and Mississippi. Given these results, pine-dominated forests in the northern edge of the southern pine beetle’s range may experience more frequent occurrence of outbreaks, due to the positive feedbacks associated with a synchronous spring emergence of this insect.