Doctor of Philosophy in Forestry (PhD)
Evolution of bark beetle-fungus mutualisms: insights from a novel association between the alder bark beetle and a Neonectria canker pathogen
Global climate change is affecting species from all taxonomic groups. Their response to warming and precipitation trends is highly variable, and will likely lead to changes in ecosystem composition that may affect resilience and stability. Eruptive forest insects compete directly with humans for forest resources, and the distribution and magnitude of epidemics is increasing. Here, I describe a series of manipulative experiments using the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) system to examine biological and life history traits of both the beetle and hosts as they pertain to eruptive population dynamics and range expansion in a warming environment. Mountain pine beetle exhibits population phase-dependent host selection behavior, which I demonstrated is informed directly by monoterpene volatiles in host resin, and reinforced by context-dependent maternal effects arising from parental experience. Recently, mountain pine beetles have experienced dramatic range expansion into novel montane and boreal forests of western Canada. Depressed defensive capability of trees in novel forests may increase generation survival of beetle populations, potentially exacerbating outbreaks in novel systems, and enhance positive feedbacks associated with epidemic phases. Of particular concern is the tendency for elevated levels of α-pinene, an aggregation pheromone precursor, in the defensive resin of trees in novel habitats. I demonstrated that the qualitative content of monoterpenes, specifically the relative concentration of (+)- and (-)-α-pinene, influences the ability of the beetle to aggregate and mass-attack healthy hosts, and may exacerbate outbreaks on a landscape scale, thereby potentially increasing the rate of spread of beetles in novel forests. Finally, I demonstrated that the close association of mountain pine beetle with the defensive expression of hosts has led to selection in native forests for enhanced defenses, and a lack of coevolution in novel forests has likely led to the increased susceptibility to mortality. The present study has advanced our knowledge of eruptive insect dynamics and the response of these economically important species to climate change. This thesis contributes to the body of knowledge pertaining to ecological theory of population dynamics and invasion biology, and identifies areas for further study and effort to mitigate the biological consequences of anthropogenic modification to the environment.
The Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) has now affected more than 16 million hectares of forest in western Canada causing significant economic, social and ecological impact to the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. Recent findings suggest that pine trees lacking historical exposure to MPB impacts are evolutionary naive, resulting in unprecedented impacts in previously unoccupied areas. MPB can also reproduce successfully in jack pine, the most abundant species of Pinus in the boreal forest which provides a potential conduit for further range expansion eastwards. Current understanding of MPB outbreak dynamics is based largely on research from its original habitat in lodgepole pine. As MPB expand their range, population dynamics are expected to differ from that of the originating habitat due to novel trophic interactions. I assessed the speculation that tree depletion by MPB in novel pine habitat is more severe than in evolutionarily experienced habitat. I utilized a landscape-level analysis of MPB infestation data across BC in relation to forest characteristics and climatic suitability. This required the use of several different data sources including a climate suitability model, province wide vegetation inventory and annual aerial overview survey data. Additionally I evaluated how potential host availability varies across the boreal forest of Canada and how this affects rates of spread under varying levels of climatic suitability and host susceptibility. Habitats only recently invaded by the MPB experienced impacts that were 1.7 to 3.9 times greater than those with long-term exposure to MPB impacts. Predicted MPB spread was rapid under conditions of high climatic suitability. Only under conditions of both low climate suitability and low host susceptibility did host availability limit spread. The challenge to forest management is large given the recently documented changes to insect population dynamics in naive environments. Priority should be given to the development of predictive tools supporting strategic landscape planning intent on minimizing additional impacts to naive ecosystems into the future. Despite continued uncertainty as to community and ecosystem trajectories under global change, this thesis exposes a coherent pattern of ecological change across a broad system at two distinct spatial scales.
Outbreaks of western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman), a native defoliator of Douglas-fir, appear to have been occurring further north in British Columbia (BC) compared to the early 1900s potentially as a result of climate change, but there is a lack of quantitative evidence to support this. I analysed the distribution of western spruce budworm infestation centers in forest health survey data for BC from 1967 to 2011 using a geographic information system (GIS) and linear regression. There was a significant (p