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Interspecific variation in spruce constitutive and induced defenses in response to a bark beetle-fungal symbiont provides insight into traits associated with resistance.

  • Ott, Daniel S1
  • Davis, Thomas Seth2
  • Mercado, Javier E3
  • 1 USDA-Forest Service, Forest Health Protection, Ogden Field Office, Ogden, UT 84403, USA.
  • 2 Forest & Rangeland Stewardship, Warner College of Natural Resources, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1472, USA.
  • 3 USDA-Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO 80526-2098, USA.
Published Article
Tree Physiology
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
Jul 05, 2021
DOI: 10.1093/treephys/tpaa170
PMID: 33450761


Differences in defensive traits of tree species may predict why some conifers are susceptible to bark beetle-fungal complexes and others are not. A symbiotic fungus (Leptographium abietinum (Peck) M.J. Wingf.) associated with the tree-killing bark beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis Kirby) is phytopathogenic to host trees and may hasten tree decline during colonization by beetles, but defense responses of mature trees to the fungus have not been experimentally examined. To test the hypothesis that interspecific variation in spruce resistance is explained by defense traits we compared constitutive (bark thickness and constitutive resin ducts) and induced defenses (resin flow, monoterpene composition, concentration, phloem lesion formation and traumatic resin ducts) between two sympatric spruces: Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry ex Engelm.-a susceptible host) and blue spruce (Picea pungens Engelm.-a resistant host) in response to fungal inoculation. Four central findings emerged: (i) blue spruce has thicker outer bark and thinner phloem than Engelmann spruce, which may restrict fungal access to phloem and result in less beetle-available resource overall; (ii) both spruce species induce monoterpenes in response to inoculation but blue spruce has higher constitutive monoterpene levels, induces monoterpenes more rapidly, and induces higher concentrations over a period of time consistent with spruce beetle attack duration; (iii) Engelmann and blue spruce differed in the monoterpenes they upregulated in response to fungal inoculation: blue spruce upregulated α-pinene, terpinolene and γ-terpinene, but Engelmann spruce upregulated 3-carene and linalool; and (iv) blue spruce has a higher frequency of constitutive resin ducts and produces more traumatic resin ducts in annual growth increments than Engelmann spruce, though Engelmann spruce produces more resin following aseptic wounding or fungal inoculation. These findings suggest that higher constitutive resin duct densities and monoterpene concentrations, as well as the ability to rapidly induce specific monoterpenes in response to L. abietinum inoculation, are phenotypic traits associated with hosts resistant to spruce beetle colonization. Published by Oxford University Press 2021.

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