Declines and Resilience of Communities of Leaf Chewing Insects on Missouri Oaks Following Spring Frost and Summer Drought

Robert J. Marquis, John T. Lill, Rebecca E. Forkner, Josiane Le Corff, John M. Landosky, James B. Whitfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extreme weather events dramatically impact populations of individual insect species but the consequences of such events for entire insect communities are not well documented. We present evidence that mid spring frosts and summer drought negatively affect the community of insects found on Missouri oaks (Quercus alba and Q. velutina), amounting to a 23–186 fold decrease depending on the oak species, insect body size and feeding guild, and the specific weather event. Depending on the event, spring faunas required 1–5 years and summer faunas 1–4 years following spring frosts to reach pre-event levels. The impact of summer drought on leaf tying caterpillars also lasted over an extended period of time; it was 5 years before numbers of leaf ties reached pre-drought levels. Smaller-bodied species of leaf tying Lepidoptera took longer to recover than larger-bodied species following the drought. Overall, we found no evidence for a general decline in abundance, even a modest one, during the 20 years of study of faunas on oak trees in southeastern Missouri. However, the risk of mid-season frost damage to trees is expected to increase with predicted earlier onset of spring. Similarly, the effects of drought reported here are likely to increase with time, as the climate in the Midwest U.S. is only expected to become warmer and drier during the summer months. Understanding the impact of such weather events on insect communities influences our ability to predict how habitat and landscape management, or lack thereof, will influence future patterns of insect abundance and diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number396
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Oct 22 2019


  • Quercus
  • climate change
  • drought
  • herbivorous insects
  • insect decline
  • insect populations
  • spring frosts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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