MEDIA ADVISORY: Ecological impacts of Brood X cicadas – experts available for comment

April 8, 2021
For Immediate Release

Contact: Heidi Swanson, (202) 833-8773 ext. 211, gro.asenull@idieh


This spring, billions of cicadas will crawl out from underground to mate and lay eggs across 15 U.S. states. The cicadas, belonging to a group known as Brood X, emerge like clockwork every 17 years. But when these billions of adult cicadas die, what happens to their carcasses?

The answer is complex: periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) create “resource pulses” in the areas where they emerge and die off, providing a surplus of food for foraging animals, affecting plant growth, causing changes in streams and ponds, and even influencing bird population dynamics. The sudden scattering of cicada carcasses floods the ecosystem with a short-term, large-magnitude influx of nutrients, and scientists have documented an array of changes that can accompany these pulses.


Experts available for comment

The following scientists have expertise in periodical cicada emergences (or aspects of environmental change relevant to periodical cicadas) and are available for comment. For help with other ESA experts, contact Heidi Swanson at gro.asenull@idieh.


DeAnna E. Beasley
Assistant Professor, Biology
University of Tennessee Chattanooga
Contact: 423-425-5967, ude.ctunull@yelsaeb-annaed

Dr. DeAnna E. Beasley is an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She received her Ph.D. in 2013 at the University of South Carolina. Her research broadly explores the impacts of environmental change on development, behavior, and physiology in insect model systems. Dr. Beasley can speak about the ecology of periodical cicadas, particularly in relation to urban environments. She is also interested in the integration of social and ecological processes to understand urban biodiversity and the development of resilient cities.


María J. González
Professor, Biology
Miami University
Contact: 513-529-6100, ude.hoimaimnull@jmlaznog 

Dr. Maria J. Gonzalez is an aquatic ecologist interested in how environmental factors regulate the flow of energy in aquatic food webs, and how nutrient inputs from periodical cicadas affect pond communities. Dr. González can speak about the effects of eutrophication, warming and resource pulses on the dynamics of aquatic communities, including algae, zooplankton and fish. 


Walt Koenig
Research Zoologist Emeritus
University of California, Berkeley
Contact: ude.yelekrebnull@gineokdw

Dr. Walt Koenig has conducted research on the interactions between periodical cicada emergences and avian predator populations in search of an answer to the long-standing question of why periodical cicadas have their uniquely long 17- and 13-year life cycles, and the even less understood problem of why avian predator populations appear to be relatively absent when cicadas emerge. His work has explored how cicada emergence affects bird population dynamics, and investigated the hypothesis that cicadas have engineered bird populations to be relatively absent during emergence years.


Matthew A. McCary
Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Rice University
Contact: (713) 334-3084, ude.ecirnull@yraccm.ttam

Dr. Matthew A. McCary is an ecologist who studies the impacts of aquatic insect emergences on terrestrial ecosystems. McCary can address questions related to how insect emergences can affect ecosystems, including their effects on plants, animals, and nutrient cycling. McCary can also speak to the ecological and evolutionary theory behind why mass insect emergences are common.


Louie H. Yang
Associate Professor
University of California, Davis
Contact: 530-902-4138, ude.sivadcunull@gnayhl 

Dr. Louie H. Yang is an ecologist that has been studying the effects of periodical cicadas as resource pulses in forest ecosystems since 2002. Yang can speak about periodical cicada behavior and ecology generally, with a particular emphasis on cicadas’ interactions with the soil, scavengers, plants and herbivores.  In addition to his work with periodical cicadas, Yang generally studies resource pulses, phenology and how species interactions change over time in a variety of other systems.


Peer-reviewed research published in ESA journals

Transient top‐down and bottom‐up effects of resources pulsed to multiple trophic levels
Matthew A. McCary, Joseph S. Phillips, Tanjona Ramiadantsoa, Lucas A. Nell, Amanda R. McCormick, and Jamieson C. Botsch. Ecology 2020.

The effects of pulsed fertilization and chronic herbivory by periodical cicadas on tree growth
Louie H. Yang and Richard Karban. Ecology 2019.

Could the lateral transfer of nutrients by outbreaking insects lead to consequential landscape‐scale effects?
Jean‐Sébastien Landry and Lael Parrott. Ecosphere 2016.

Avian predators are less abundant during periodical cicada emergences, but why?
Walter D. Koenig, Leslie Ries, V. Beth K. Olsen, and Andrew M. Liebhold. Ecology 2011.

Pulses of dead periodical cicadas increase herbivory of American bellflowers
Louie H. Yang. Ecology 2008.

Comparing resource pulses in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems
Weston H. Nowlin, Michael J. Vanni, and Louie H. Yang. Ecology 2008.

Louie H. Yang, Justin L. Bastow, Kenneth O. Spence, and Amber N. Wright. Ecology 2008.

Effects of periodical cicada emergences on abundance and synchrony of avian populations
Walter D. Koenig and Andrew M. Liebhold. Ecology 2005.

Allochthonous subsidy of periodical cicadas affects the dynamics and stability of pond communities
Weston H. Nowlin, María J. González, Michael J. Vanni, M. Henry, H. Stevens, Matthew W. Fields, and Jonathon J. Valente. Ecology 2007.


If you would like a PDF of any of the papers listed above, please contact Heidi Swanson (gro.asenull@idieh).



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