Positive feedback between climate change, forest pests and the carbon cycle

  • Anne I. M. Arnold Büsgen Institutes Department of soil science
  • Annett Reinhardt
  • Ignacy Korczynski
  • Maren Grüning
  • Carsten Thies
Keywords: Carbon cycle, Climate change, Forest


Forest trees under climate stress increasingly become more vulnerable to insect pests resulting in vastly defoliated swaths of forest land. Here, we simulated a forest pest mass outbreak using a microcosm incubation experiment, and show a positive feedback between climate change, forest pests and the carbon cycle. Treatments with insect faeces showed 16-fold higher fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 8-fold higher fluxes of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) compared to treatments without insect faeces (control) across a four weeks period, presumably due to the input of limited nitrogen (N) and fastly decomposable carbon (C) compounds that accelerate soil decomposition processes.


1. Meentmeyer V. Macroclimate and lignin control of litter decomposition rates. Ecology 1978 59, 465-472.

2. Hollinger, D.Y. Herbivory and the cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus in isolated California oak trees (1986). Oecologia 1986 :70, 291-297.

3. Lovett, G.M. & A.E. Ruesink. Carbon and nitrogen mineralization from decomposing Gypsy Moth frass . Oecologica 1995 ;104, 133-138.

4. Stadler, B., Solinger, S. & B. Michalzik. Insect herbivores and the nutrient flow from the canopy to the soil in coniferous and deciduous forests. Oecologia 2001;126, 104-113.

5. Michalzik, M., Kalbitz, K., Park, J.H., Solinger, S. & E. Matzner . Fluxes and concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen - a synthesis for temperate forests . Biogeochemistry 2001;52, 173-205.

6. le Mellec A., Gerold G. & Michalzik M. Insect herbivory, organic matter deposition and effects on belowground organic matter fluxes in a central European oak forest. Plant and Soil 2011;342, 393-403.

7. Chapman, S.K., Hart, S.C., Cobb, N.S., Whitham, T.G. & G.W. Koch. Insect herbivory increases litter quality and decomposition: an extension of the acceleration hypothesis. Ecology 2003;84, 2867-2876.

8. Guggenberger, G. & W. Zech. Composition and dynamics of dissolved organic carbohydrates and lignin-degradation products in two coniferous forests, N.E. Bavaria, Germany. Soil Biol. Biochem 1994;26, 19-27.

9. Christenson L.M., Lovett G.M., Mitchell M.J. & Groffmann P.M. 2002 The fate of nitrogen of gypsy moth frass deposited to an oak forest floor. Oecologia 131, 444-454.

10. Russel C.A., Kosola K.R., Paul E.A. & Robertson G.P. 2004 Nitrogen cycling in poplar stands defoliated by insects. Biogeochemistry 68, 365-381.

11. Hunter, M.D. 2001 Insect population dynamics meets ecosystem ecology: effects of Herbivory on soil nutrient dynamics . Agricultural and Forest Entomology 3, 77-84.

12. Morehouse K., Johns T., Kaye J. & Kaye M. 2008 Carbon and nitrogen cycling immediately following bark beetle outbreaks in southwestern ponderosa pine forests. Forest Ecology and Management 255, 2698-2708.

13. Cobb R.C. 2010 Species shift drives decomposition rates following invasion by hemlock woolly adelgid. Oikos 119, 1291–1298.

14. Schowalter, T.D., Sabin, T.E., Stafford, S.G. & J.M. Sexton 1991: Phytophage effects on primary production, nutrient turnover, and litter decomposition of young Douglas fir in western Oregon. Forest Ecology and Management 42, 229-243.

15. Carter, M.R. & Gregorich, E.G.(eds.) 2006 Soil Sampling and Methods of Analysis. Canadian Society of Soil Science. CRC Press. Boca Raton.

16. le Mellec, A., Habermann, M. & Michalzik, B. 2009 Canopy herbivory altering C to N ratios and soil input patterns of different organic matter fractions in a Scots pine forest. Plant and Soil 325, 255–262.

17. Mahli Y., Baldocchi D. & Jarvis P.G. 1999 The carbon balance of tropical, temperate and boreal forests. Plant, Cell and Environment 22, 715-740.

18. Qualls RG & Haines BL 1992 Biodegradability of dissolved organic matter in forest throughfall, soil solution, and stream water. Soil Sci Soc Am J 56,578–586.

19. Luyssaert S, Schulze E-D, Bőrner A, Knohl A, Hessenmőller D, Law BE, Ciais P & Grace J. 2008 Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks. Nature 455, 213-5.
Original Article