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Avian predation pressure as a potential driver of periodical cicada cycle length

Formally Refereed
Authors: Walter E. Koenig, Andrew M. Liebhold
Year: 2013
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: The American Naturalist. 181: 145-149.


The extraordinarily long life cycles, synchronous emergences at 13- or 17-year intervals, and complex geographic distribution of periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) in eastern North America are a long-standing evolutionary enigma. Although a variety of factors, including satiation of aboveground predators and avoidance of interbrood hybridization, have been hypothesized to shape the evolution of this system, no empirical support for these mechanisms has previously been reported, beyond the observation that bird predation can extirpate small, experimentally mistimed emergences. Here we show that periodical cicada emergences appear to set populations of potential avian predators on numerical trajectories that result in significantly lower potential predation pressure during the subsequent emergence. This result provides new support for the importance of predators in shaping periodical cicada life history, offers an ecological rationale for why emergences are synchronized at the observed multiyear intervals, and may explain some of the developmental plasticity observed in these unique insects.


Magicicada, periodical cicadas, periodicity, population cycles, predator satiation


Koenig, Walter E.; Liebhold, Andrew M. 2013. Avian predation pressure as a potential driver of periodical cicada cycle length. The American Naturalist. 181: 145-149.