Tree-Ring Reconstruction of Western Spruce Budworm Outbreaks in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado, U.S.A.

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Canadian Jorunal of Forest Research

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Tree-ring records were used to reconstruct spatial and temporal patterns of western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman) outbreaks in mixed conifer forests of southern Colorado. Reconstructions in 11 host stands showed a regionally synchronous pattern of at least 14 outbreaks during the past 350 years. Intervals between outbreaks were highly variable within stands, but at the regional scale outbreak intervals were more consistent. Spectral analyses of regional outbreak time series confirmed periodicities at about 25, 37, and 83 years. Comparison with an independent drought reconstruction indicated that outbreaks typically corresponded to increased moisture, while relatively little budworm activity occurred during dry periods. In contrast to other published reconstructions in Colorado and New Mexico, reconstructions from this study area did not exhibit significant 20th-century changes in the frequency of outbreak occurrence or magnitude of growth reduction. Sharply reduced growth during outbreaks was not clearly visible on the increment core samples, and budworm-induced reductions in tree-ring growth were usually detectable only after comparison with nonhost tree-ring series. This finding emphasizes that defoliation effects on ring growth can be highly relativistic. Hence, caution should be exercised in reconstructing insect outbreak histories based only on visual detection approaches, or without comparison with nonhost or nondefoliated tree-ring control series.