The pattern and range of movement of a checkered beetle predator relative to its bark beetle prey

James T. Cronin, University of North Dakota
John D. Reeve, USDA Forest Service
Richard Wilkens, Dowling College
Peter Turchin, University of Connecticut


Theoretical studies of predator-prey population dynamics have increasingly centered on the role of space and the movement of organisms. Yet, empirical studies have been slow to follow suit. Herein, we quantified the long-range movement of a checkered beetle, Thanasimus dubius, which is an important predator of a pernicious forest pest, the southern pine beetle, Dendroctonus frontalis. Adult checkered beetles were marked and released at five sites and subsequently recaptured at traps baited with pine and pine beetle semiochemicals and located at distances up to 2 km away from the release point. While the pattern of recaptures-with-distance at each site provided a modest fit to a simple random-diffusion model, there was a consistent discrepancy between observed and expected recaptures: a higher than expected proportion of beetles were recaptured at the more distant traps. To account for this deviation, we developed a model of diffusion that allowed for simple heterogeneity in the population of marked beetles; i.e., a slow and fast moving form of the checkered beetle. This model provided a significantly better fit to the data and formed the basis for our estimates of intra-forest movement. We estimated that on average, one half of the checkered beetles dispersed at least 1.25 km, one third dispersed > 2 km, and 5% dispersed > 5 km. The source of the heterogeneous dispersal rates were partially due to differences in beetle size: smaller beetles (for both males and females) were more likely to be recaptured away from the release site than larger beetles. The southern pine beetle (prey for the checkered beetle) exhibited no significant heterogeneity in dispersal ability and provided a very good fit to the simple diffusion model. The only difference in dispersal between these two species was that checkered beetles were undergoing greater long-distance dispersal than the pine beetles (the radius containing 95% of the dispersing individuals was 5.1 km for the checkered beetle and 2.3 km for the pine beetle). Data on the movement of these two species is used to evaluate a general model of spatial pattern formation in a homogeneous environment, and the potential of the checkered beetle as a biological control agent for the southern pine beetle.