Constructing a mechanistic species-interaction model of gypsy moth population fluctuations

Project Overview
Project Abstract: 
Under certain conditions, some forest pest insects exhibit massive population explosions and cause devastating damage over large areas of forest. Although these highly environmentally sensitive pests currently plague North American forests, we may see more frequent and intense outbreaks in the future as climate change disrupts natural processes and global warming accelerates insect metabolisms and reproduction. Exotic gypsy moths represent a species of pest insect sweeping across the northeastern United States that climate change will effect, but scientist do not yet know how and to what extent. To gain perspective on the future of this pest, I plan to construct a mechanistic species-interaction model that will simulate moth population fluctuations over time based on predicted future climate changes and impacts of other organisms. In order to make my model as realistic and useful as possible, I want to quantify the impacts of different climate conditions on interactions between gypsy moths and the species that dramatically influence their population dynamics. The organisms that have the greatest impact on gypsy moths in North America are two pathogens, a nucleopolyhedrosis virus (NPV) and a fungus, Entomophaga maimaiga. Therefore, to parameterize my model, I intend to quantify the annual cycle of the gypsy moth and its pathogens using a suite of field experiments and routine sampling from natural populations. To understand how different climates affect this cycle, I plan repeat this suite of experiments at three sites along a climate gradient in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. While this initial season of experiments will give me a better understanding of the influence of climate on gypsy moth population dynamics, I hope to repeat my study over multiple years at each site to ensure a thorough understanding of these organisms over time. After collecting this data from natural populations, I will parameterize my model, compare it to historic records of gypsy moth population dynamics and make predictions about the future of this pest in the light of climate change. These simulations will guide conservationists and help them more efficiently prepare for future defenses against gypsy moths and other forest pest insects.
Investigator Info
Funding agency: 
Hines Fund - The University of Chicago
Years research project active: 
2009 to 2011