Effects of forest tent caterpillar defoliation on carbon and water fluxes in a boreal aspen stand

Published by Ecoss on

Insect outbreaks can significantly influence carbon (C) and water balances of forests. Forest tent caterpillars (FTC) (Malacosoma disstria Hübner) are one of the most prominent insects found in aspen forests in Canada and have the potential to considerably influence regional C and water fluxes. In the summer of 2016, an FTC infestation occurred in a ca. 100 -year-old trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) stand in the southern boreal forest where the longterm research site known as Old Aspen (OA) is located. The infestation led to nearly complete defoliation of the canopy during the leafing out period when photosynthesis, and thus C uptake, is progressing towards maximum levels. We used 21 years of eddy-covariance (EC) and climate measurements covering pre-infestation and infestation periods to estimate the impact of the FTC infestation on net ecosystem production (NEP), gross ecosystem production (GEP) and evapotranspiration (E). Defoliation in 2016 reduced annual NEP to −130 g C m−2 y−1 and GEP to 798 g C m−2 y−1, respectively, which were much less than their 20-year means (NEP = 118 ± 53 g C m−2 y−1, GEP = 1057 ± 74 g C m−2 y−1), and resulted in the most negative annual NEP value of the 21 years of measurements at the OA site. NEP for 2016 was even lower than values observed during three drought years (2001–2003). However, FTC infestation caused little effect on annual E. FTC infestation reduced the near-surface remotely-measured greenness index, green chromatic coordinate (GCC), to ∼0.32 on June 10 in comparison to ∼0.40 in other years. The defoliation, observable from space as reductions in normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) values, also showed a negligible effect on E but a large effect on the C fluxes.