Extensive gypsy moth defoliation in Southern New England characterized using Landsat satellite observations
Southern New England is currently experiencing the first major gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) defoliation event in nearly 30 years. Using a novel approach based on time series of Landsat satellite observations, we generated consistent maps of gypsy moth defoliation for 2015 (first year of the outbreak), 2016 (second year of outbreak), and 2017 (third year of outbreak). Our mapped results demonstrate that the defoliation event continued through the 2017 growing season. Moreover, the affected area more than doubled in extent each year and expanded radially to encompass 4386 km2 of forested area in Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut, and central Massachusetts. The current gypsy moth outbreak is believed to be the result of a series of unusually dry springs in 2014, 2015, and 2016, which suppressed Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungal mortality agent that has historically reduced gypsy moth impacts in this region. The continuation and marked expansion of the outbreak in 2017 despite average spring rainfall suggests that caterpillars were active early in the growing season, and mortality from the fungus likely peaked after significant defoliation had already occurred. Our Landsat time series approach represents an important new source of data on spatial and temporal patterns in gypsy moth defoliation, and continued satellite-based monitoring will be essential for tracking the progress of this and other gypsy moth outbreaks.