Date of Award:

2017

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Karen E. Mock

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Barbara J. Bentz

Abstract

Over the last two decades, mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) populations reached epidemic levels across much of western North America, including high elevations where cool temperatures previously limited beetle persistence. Many high-elevation pine species are susceptible hosts and experienced high levels of mortality in recent outbreaks, but co-occurring Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva), the longest-living non-clonal organism, were not attacked. I assessed Great Basin bristlecone pine resistance to mountain pine beetle by evaluating mountain pine beetle host selection behavior and reproductive success in this species.

To evaluate mountain pine beetle host selection preference for Great Basin bristlecone pine, I used no-choice 48-hour attack box experiments that confined pioneering female beetles onto pairs of living Great Basin bristlecone and limber pine (P. flexilis), a susceptible host tree species. To investigate the effect of induced tree defenses on host selection behavior, I repeated the tests on paired sections of Great Basin bristlecone and limber pines that had been recently cut, thereby removing their capacity for induced defensive reactions to an attack. Mountain pine beetles avoided Great Basin bristlecone pine relative to limber pine, suggesting that Great Basin bristlecone pine has a high level of resistance to mountain pine beetle due at least in part to stimuli that repel pioneering females from initiating attacks, even when induced defenses are compromised.

To investigate mountain pine beetle reproductive success in Great Basin bristlecone pine, I compared the mating success, fecundity, and brood production of mountain pine beetle parents placed in cut Great Basin bristlecone pine bolts with that of mountain pine beetles placed in cut bolts of limber pine and lodgepole pine (P. contorta), two susceptible species. Initial reproductive development was similar in all three tree species, but nearly all brood in Great Basin bristlecone pine died before emerging. The extensive offspring mortality observed in Great Basin bristlecone pine may be a key evolutionary driver behind mountain pine beetle aversion to the species. These findings suggest that Great Basin bristlecone pine is a highly resistant species with low vulnerability to climate-driven increases in mountain pine beetle outbreaks at high elevations.

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