Growth, Chemistry, and Genetic Profiles of Whitebark Pine Forests Affected by Climate-Driven Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreaks

Diana L. Six, Amy Trowbridge, Michael Howe, Dana Perkins, Erika Berglund, Peter Brown, Jeffrey A. Hicke, Ganesh Balasubramanian

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Scopus citations


    Climate change-driven Dendroctonus ponderosae outbreaks in semi-naïve Pinus albicaulis may result in rapid natural selection for trees with genotypes and phenotypes associated with survival. In this study, we investigated whether survivors were genetically and chemically different from a living cohort of trees that escaped predation due to smaller size and estimated genetic diversity. We also examined how growth rate and climate sensitivity varied between beetle-killed and surviving trees. Dendroctonus ponderosae predominantly kills large diameter trees; therefore, we predicted that large surviving trees would have distinctive genetic profiles and, due to bottlenecking and drift, survivors would have lower genetic diversity than the abundant smaller mature trees that escaped predation. We found survivors were indeed genetically divergent from the smaller trees but, contrary to expectations, the smaller trees had lower diversity. This suggests that while beetles may select for trees with particular genotypes, other factors are also driving population genetic sub-structuring. Individual tree terpene profiles were diverse and varied by population but showed no clear relationship to survivorship. Two groups of trees with divergent sensitivities to climate were observed in each population, but neither was a clear indicator of survivorship or susceptibility to beetle attack. Growth rate was the best predictor of survivorship with survivors growing significantly slower than beetle-killed trees over their lifetimes although growth rates converged in years just prior to increased beetle activity. Overall, our results suggest that P. albicaulis forests show considerable divergence among populations and within-population genetic sub-structuring, and that they may contain complex mosaics of adaptive potentials to a variety of stressors including D. ponderosae. To protect the ability of this tree to adapt to increasing pressure from beetles, blister rust, and climate change, a top priority should be the maintenance of standing genetic diversity and adaptive shifts in allele frequencies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number671510
    JournalFrontiers in Forests and Global Change
    StatePublished - May 20 2021


    • Dendroctonus ponderosae (mountain pine beetle)
    • Pinus albicaulis
    • adaptation
    • climate change
    • dendrochronology
    • genetic diversity


    Dive into the research topics of 'Growth, Chemistry, and Genetic Profiles of Whitebark Pine Forests Affected by Climate-Driven Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreaks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this