Naïve Pine Terpene Response to the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) through the Seasons

mountain pine beetle photo by ron long


Insect herbivores must contend with constitutive and induced plant defenses. The mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins (Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) has expanded its range east of the Rocky Mountains into the western boreal forest and is encountering evolutionarily naïve lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta) and jack pines (Pinus banksiana). Pinus contorta and P. banksiana in the expanded range have different constitutive and induced defenses in response to wounding and inoculation with fungal associates of D. ponderosae. In the historic range, previous studies have examined phloem terpene content prior to and just after D. ponderosae mass attack, but the terpene profile of attacked trees post-overwintering is unknown. We examined the response of mature P. contorta and P. banksiana trees to experimentally-applied mass attack by D. ponderosae and quantified phloem terpenes at three time points, pre-attack, post-attack (same season), and the following spring, post-overwintering. Phloem content of total terpenes as well as many individual terpenes increased after D. ponderosae attack but were only significantly higher than pre-attack levels at the post-overwintering time point in both P. contorta and P. banksiana. The absence of a significant increase in phloem terpenes in the month following attack in naïve pines is a potential cause for increased D. ponderosae offspring production reported in naïve P. contorta. Beetle attack density did not influence the phloem terpene profiles of either species and there was no significant interaction between attack density and sampling time on terpene content. High phloem terpenes in trees that are attacked at low densities could prime these trees for defense against attacks in the following season but it could also make these trees more apparent to early-foraging beetles and facilitate efficient mass attack at low D. ponderosae population densities in the expanded range.

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Musso, A.E., Fortier, C., Huber, D.P.W. et al. Naïve Pine Terpene Response to the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) through the Seasons. J Chem Ecol 49, 299–312 (2023).