Scientists are investigating how climate change may be influencing a spruce budworm outbreak in Quebec’s forests.

An area the size of Belgium on Quebec’s North Shore is now affected by the highly destructive insect, which feeds on the young needles of white, red and black spruce and balsam fir trees.

Spruce budworm populations go through cyclical fluctuations and reach outbreak proportions once every 30 to 40 years, leading to widespread defoliation and massive losses for the forest industry.

The spruce budworm population in Quebec has been steadily increasing since 2006, and more than 3.2-million hectares of forest have been affected.

The federal government has invested $6 million to control the outbreak in Quebec.

According to Quebec's forest protection agency, SOPFIM, climate change may affect the frequency and length of outbreak cycles.

UQAM professor Dan Kneeshaw is part of the team that’s combing forests near Baie-Comeau for clues.

"We're asking questions like how are things changing, and will the black spruce forest become vulnerable. If it does that will be an even larger economic disaster in Canada," he told CBC News.

Canadian Forest Service scientist Louis De Grandpré said his team is trying to determine whether the budworm is affecting the regeneration of the forest, and not just the trees themselves.

"If the forest ecosystem is not able to keep these nutrients in the system, they will be lost," he said.

De Grandpré also worries that as the tree canopy thins out, some of the predators that keep the budworms in check may also start to disappear.