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Mountain pine beetle-caused mortality over eight years in two pine hosts in mixed-conifer stands of the southern Rocky Mountains

Forest Ecology and Management
DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2014.09.012
  • Forest Disturbance
  • Dendroctonus Ponderosae
  • Host Selection
  • Hopkins’ Host Selection Principle
  • Lodgepole Pine
  • Ponderosa Pine
  • Ecology
  • Geography


Abstract Eruptive mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae, MPB) populations have caused widespread mortality of pines throughout western North America since the late 1990s. Early work by A.D. Hopkins suggested that when alternate host species are available, MPB will prefer to breed in the host to which it has become adapted. In Colorado, epidemic populations of MPB that originated in lodgepole pine expanded into mixed-conifer stands containing ponderosa pine, a related host. We evaluated the susceptibility of both hosts to successful MPB colonization in a survey of 19 sites in pine-dominated mixed-conifer stands spanning 140km of the Front Range, CO, USA. In each of three 0.2-ha plots at each site, we (1) assessed trees in the annual flights of 2008–2011 to compare MPB-caused mortality between lodgepole and ponderosa pine; (2) recorded previous MPB-caused tree mortality from 2004–2007 to establish baseline mortality levels; and (3) measured characteristics of the stands (e.g. tree basal area) and sites (e.g. elevation, aspect) that might be correlated with MPB colonization. Uninfested average live basal area of lodgepole and ponderosa pine was 74% of total basal area before 2004. We found that for both species, annual percent basal area of attacked trees was greatest in one year (2009), and was lower in all other years (2004–2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011). Both pine species had similar average total mortality of 38–39% by 2011. Significant predictors of ponderosa pine mortality in a given year were basal area of uninfested ponderosa pine and the previous year’s mortality levels in both ponderosa and lodgepole pine. Lodgepole pine mortality was predicted by uninfested basal areas of both lodgepole and ponderosa pine, and the previous year’s lodgepole pine mortality. These results indicate host selection by MPB from lodgepole pine natal hosts into ponderosa pine the following year, but not the reverse. In both species, diameters of attacked trees within each year were similar, and were progressively smaller the last four years of the study period. Our results suggest that, in contrast to previous reports, ponderosa and lodgepole pine were equally susceptible to MPB infestation in the CO Front Range during our study period. This suggests that forest managers may anticipate similar impacts in both hosts during similar environmental conditions when epidemic-level MPB populations are active in mixed-pine stands.

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