Periodical Cicada: Effects on Predation and Resource Cycling in Terrestrial and Aquatic Environments

Valenti, Derek, Environmental Sciences - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Macko, Stephen, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia
Laushway, Francis, Office of the Dean of Students, University of Virginia
Shugart, Herman, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia

In America, the Magicicada species has a unique life cycle unlike that of most insects. Cicadas in America have a life cycle that lasts either 13 or 17 years. A majority of their lives is spent underground living off of root xylem. During the 13th or 17th year of their life, cicadas emerge from the ground and form what are known as “chorus centers” to mate. Upon emergence, the cicadas crawl to the surface with nutrients that were attained deeper in the soils. In this paper, it is examined how the pulsed resource of a cicada emergence can cause changes in different environments and animal behavior.
The emergence of cicadas in mass numbers provides a unique opportunity for observation in the environment from predation to plant growth in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Certain predators, such as opportunistic foragers, are most likely to capitalize on the resource availability. Avian predators are found to employ different consumption techniques throughout the span of emergence. One of the cicadas best defenses it employs is predator satiation, in which the insects emerge in mass quantities which allows for predation to consume a small percentage of the population. Cicadas that are not consumed by predators will go on to reproduce and eventually die and can cover an entire forest floor. The decaying carcasses are high in nitrogen and result in heightened growth for shallow rooted plants. A similar process is seen in aquatic environments except that decomposition happens at a faster rate, and the effects of a cicada outbreak can be observed in a shorter frame. A pulsed resource such as the Magicicada provides a unique opportunity to promote environmental changes, which can also offer insight into how environments and animals may react to drastic changes resource abundance.

MA (Master of Arts)
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