Do bark beetle outbreaks amplify or dampen future bark beetle disturbances in Central Europe?

Andreas Sommerfeld, Werner Rammer, Marco Heurich, Torben Hilmers, Jörg Müller, Rupert Seidl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Bark beetle outbreaks have intensified in many forests around the globe in recent years. Yet, the legacy of these disturbances for future forest development remains unclear. Bark beetle disturbances are expected to increase further because of climate change. Consequently, feedbacks within the disturbance regime are of growing interest, for example, whether bark beetle outbreaks are amplifying future bark beetle activity (through the initiation of an even-aged cohort of trees) or dampening it (through increased structural and compositional diversity). We studied bark beetle–vegetation–climate interactions in the Bavarian Forest National Park (Germany), an area characterised by unprecedented bark beetle activity in the recent past. We simulated the effect of future bark beetle outbreaks on forest structure and composition and analysed how disturbance-mediated forest dynamics influence future bark beetle activity under different scenarios of climate change. We used process-based simulation modelling in combination with machine learning to disentangle the long-term interactions between vegetation, climate and bark beetles at the landscape scale. Disturbances by the European spruce bark beetle were strongly amplified by climate change, increasing between 59% and 221% compared to reference climate. Bark beetle outbreaks reduced the dominance of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) on the landscape, increasing compositional diversity. Disturbances decreased structural diversity within stands (α diversity) and increased structural diversity between stands (β diversity). Overall, disturbance-mediated changes in forest structure and composition dampened future disturbance activity (a reduction of up to −67%), but were not able to fully compensate for the amplifying effect of climate change. Synthesis. Our findings indicate that the recent disturbance episode at the Bavarian Forest National Park was caused by a convergence of highly susceptible forest structures with climatic conditions favourable for bark beetle outbreaks. While future climate is increasingly conducive to massive outbreaks, the emerging landscape structure is less and less likely to support them. This study improves our understanding of the long-term legacies of ongoing bark beetle disturbances in Central Europe. It indicates that increased diversity provides an important dampening feedback, and suggests that preventing disturbances or homogenizing post-disturbance forests could elevate the future susceptibility to large-scale bark beetle outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-749
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • climate change
  • disturbance interactions
  • diversity
  • forest composition
  • forest structure
  • iLand


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