A consequence of isolation is increased susceptibility to catastrophe. Insect damage to fragmented and isolated forests has the potential to serve as a catastrophic force; such damage has increased worldwide due to climate change and fire suppression policies. We examined the response of endangered endemic Mt. Graham red squirrels to catastrophic insect damage due to moths, beetles, and introduced aphids. Insects changed the forest environment significantly for the endemic squirrel by reducing basal area and stem densities of live stems, while increasing number and basal area of standing dead stems. Availability of two major foods, fungi and tree seeds, declined in insect-damaged forests relative to trends in undamaged forests. Numbers of Mt. Graham red squirrels declined precipitously in insect-damaged forests suggesting a catastrophe. Conservation options are limited in such situations. Forest-insect induced catastrophes are likely to become more common in the near future as forest health declines due to past management tactics and climate change. Prudent conservation measures include the anticipation of insect outbreaks and effective forest treatments to decrease likelihood of such catastrophes to species of precarious conservation status, while avoiding abrupt changes to critical habitat.
- Bark beetle
- Climate change
- Forest health
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation