Mountain Pine Beetle Host-range Expansion Threatens the Boreal Forest

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Molecular Ecology

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The current epidemic of the mountain pine beetle (MPB), an indigenous pest of western North American pine, has resulted in significant losses of lodgepole pine. The leading edge has reached Alberta where forest composition shifts from lodgepole to jack pine through a hybrid zone. The susceptibility of jack pine to MPB is a major concern, but there has been no evidence of host-range expansion, in part due to the difficulty in distinguishing the parentals and their hybrids. We tested the utility of a panel of microsatellite loci optimized for both species to classify lodgepole pine, jack pine and their hybrids using simulated data. We were able to accurately classify simulated individuals, and hence applied these markers to identify the ancestry of attacked trees. Here we show for the first time successful MPB attack in natural jack pine stands at the leading edge of the epidemic. This once unsuitable habitat is now a novel environment for MPB to exploit, a potential risk which could be exacerbated by further climate change. The consequences of host-range expansion for the vast boreal ecosystem could be significant.