Climate change leads to invasive insect expansion on West Coast
A collage of oak galls created by oak gall wasps. Credit: Kirsten Prior

Warming temperatures in the Pacific Northwest have led some insect species to expand into more northerly oak savannas.

Dylan Jones had pictures of oak leaves. The other was green and dotted with the occasional gall, a structure made by a herbivorous species of oak gall wasp. The leaf that was yellowed was the victim of an insect population. Warming temperatures in the Pacific Northwest have led to the expansion of the range of the species.

There are a few galls on a single leaf. In the expanded range, you can find many trees on a single tree. It's pretty common throughout the island.

A research paper written by Jones was published in the journal of animal ecology. The co-authors of "Latitudinal gradient in species diversity provides high niche opportunities for a range-expanding phytophagous insect" are Prior, field technician Julia Kobelt, and assistant professor of biological sciences Thomas Powell.

Oaks are the dominant tree species in oak savannas. Quercus garryana requires a dry environment. Oak savannas can be found in the rain shadow of the mountain range.

oaks are a diverse and important group of trees throughout North America. These wasp species form growths known as galls that can be striking in their different forms, from those that look like large apples to others with colorful spikes.

Kinsey studied oak gall wasp before studying human sexuality.

The group of species is attractive to biologists and amateurs because they are charismatic. You can look at all the structures on an oak.

One of the most important groups in the animal kingdom, the parasitoid wasp, is one of the many species of insects that can be found in these galls. The parasitoid wasp lays their eggs in the oak.

Oak gall wasp diversity is high in North America, but not well- documented, and the identification of some species remains unknown. Jones and Prior are part of a group that is trying to change that.

It is important to document the diversity of life. We haven't described a lot of the diversity on Earth.

The invaders are the ecology.

During that summer, the researchers looked at their study sites three different times. Trips down dirt logging roads or on preserves associated with Indigenous communities were quite remote. Others were not far from the cities.

Most of the oak savannas on the island have been left to the care of the owners.

"We have long relationships with a lot of the land owners there that allow us to work on their property." Some of them are so excited to have researchers there.

Jones said that the closer you are to the equator the more species you have. It's the same situation when it comes to higher altitudes. Warming temperatures can cause one species to expand its range, which in turn can cause other species to move into the area.

The researchers point out that the case of the oak gall was a good example of the importance of biodiversity and the impact of climate change.

Jones said that biodiversity can be important in protecting areas from invaders. Areas that have strong competitors might be less vulnerable to invaders.

More information: Latitudinal gradient in species diversity provides high niche opportunities for a range-expanding phytophagous insect, Journal of Animal Ecology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.13780 Journal information: Journal of Animal Ecology