Defense traits in the long-lived Great Basin bristlecone pine and resistance to the native herbivore mountain pine beetle

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

New Phytologist


New Phytologist Trust

Publication Date



  • Mountain pine beetle (MPB, Dendroctonus ponderosae) is a significant mortality agent ofPinus, and climate-driven range expansion is occurring. Pinus defenses in recently invaded areas, including high elevations, are predicted to be lower than in areas with longer term MPB presence. MPB was recently observed in high-elevation forests of the Great Basin (GB) region, North America. Defense and susceptibility in two long-lived species, GB bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) and foxtail pine (P. balfouriana), are unclear, although they are sympatric with a common MPB host, limber pine (P. flexilis).
  • We surveyed stands with sympatric GB bristlecone–limber pine and foxtail–limber pine to determine relative MPB attack susceptibility and constitutive defenses.
  • MPB-caused mortality was extensive in limber, low in foxtail and absent in GB bristlecone pine. Defense traits, including constitutive monoterpenes, resin ducts and wood density, were higher in GB bristlecone and foxtail than in limber pine.
  • GB bristlecone and foxtail pines have relatively high levels of constitutive defenses which make them less vulnerable to climate-driven MPB range expansion relative to other high-elevation pines. Long-term selective herbivore pressure and exaptation of traits for tree longevity are potential explanations, highlighting the complexity of predicting plant–insect interactions under climate change.