Literature Review: Periodical Cicadas

by Carl Strang

This week’s literature focus is on a single paper, which looked at a significant aspect of periodical cicada biology.

The northern periodical cicada species, Linnaeus’s 17-year cicada on the left, Cassin’s 17-year cicada on the right

The northern periodical cicada species, Linnaeus’s 17-year cicada on the left, Cassin’s 17-year cicada on the right

Karban, Richard. 2014. Transient habitats limit development time for periodical cicadas. Ecology 95:3-8. He studied septendecim and cassini (our two local species of Magicicada) in New York state. There are several hypotheses explaining why their development times are so long: Pleistocene historical influences (long life span buffered annual climate variation in glacial refuges), predator satiation (some early maturing individuals wait for slower ones to catch up, and long life spans facilitate this), low nutrition forces long development, and increased fecundity (17-year species have been shown to be more fecund than the more southern 13-year versions). Here he examined the possibility that habitat quality changes rapidly enough to put an upper limit on such advantages of long lifespans. Though past studies pointed to possible advantages of edge trees, here he compared weights of newly eclosed adults from edge vs. forest interiors, finding the former to be only slightly (4.9%) heavier in septendecim but no difference in cassini. He took density of emerging nymphs as an indication of habitat quality. Changes in study sites were significant between emergences, enough to limit any advantage of longer life. He commented on the Raccoon Grove study site in Will County, once one of the highest-density populations known, mentioning that they plummeted over just a couple sequential emergences, first because of Dutch elm disease killing host trees. Karban and Yang visited that site in 2007, hearing one chorus but finding no emergence holes or nymphal skins.

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