Developmental synchrony in multivoltine insects: generation separation versus smearing

Ottar N. Bjørnstad, William A. Nelson, Patrick C. Tobin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Many insect species undergo multiple generations each year. They are found across biomes that vary in their strength of seasonality and, depending on location and species, can display a wide range of population dynamics. Some species exhibit cycles with distinct generations (developmental synchrony/generation separation), some exhibit overlapping generations with multiple life stages present simultaneously (generation smearing), while others have intermediate dynamics with early season separation followed by late season smearing. There are two main hypotheses to explain these dynamics. The first is the ‘seasonal disturbance’ hypothesis where winter synchronizes the developmental clock among individuals, which causes transient generation separation early in the season that erodes through the summer. The second is the ‘temperature destabilization’ hypothesis where warm temperatures during the summer cause population dynamics to become unstable giving rise to single generation cycles. Both hypotheses are supported by detailed mathematical theory incorporating mechanisms that are likely to drive dynamics in nature. In this review, we synthesize the theory and propose a conceptual framework—where each mechanism may be seen as an independent axis shaping the developmental (a)synchrony—that allows us to predict dynamic patterns from insect life-history characteristics. High fecundity, short adult life-span and strong seasonality enhance synchrony, while developmental plasticity and environmental heterogeneity erode synchrony. We further review current mathematical and statistical tools to study multi-generational dynamics and illustrate using case studies of multivoltine tortrix moths. By integrating two disparate bodies of theory, we articulate a deep connection among temperature, stability, developmental synchrony and inter-generational dynamics of multivoltine insects that is missing in current literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-491
Number of pages13
JournalPopulation Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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