Geographically partitioned spatial synchrony among cyclic moth populations

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Many species of forest lepidopterans exhibit regular population cycles, which culminate in outbreak densities at approximately ten-year intervals. Population peaks and mass outbreaks typically occur synchronously and may lead to extensive forest damages over large geographic areas. Here, we report patterns of spatial synchrony among cyclic autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata) populations across Fennoscandia, as inferred from 24 long-term (10–33 years) data sets. The study provides the first formal analysis of spatial synchrony of this pest species which damages mountain birch (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii) forests in the sub Arctic. We detected positive cross-correlations in population growth rates between the time series, indicating overall spatial synchrony. However, we found the strongest degree of synchrony within geographically and climatically distinct regional clusters, into which time series were partitioned using cluster analyses. Within regional clusters, moth populations were exposed to the synchronizing effects of common, spatially autocorrelated environmental conditions, i.e. a Moran effect. Consequently, we conclude that a geographically and climatically restricted Moran effect, perhaps interacting with dispersal, is the most likely explanation for the regionally partitioned pattern of synchrony among autumnal moth populations in Fennoscandia. Our results emphasize that high amounts of environmental variation may result in a clear structuring of spatial synchrony at unexpectedly small scales.

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