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Forest diversity as a factor influencing Engelmann spruce resistance to beetle outbreaks

Conner, Lafe G., Bunnell, Michael C., Gill, Richard A.
Canadian journal of forest research = 2014 v.44 no.11 pp. 1369-1375
Abies concolor, Abies lasiocarpa, Dendroctonus rufipennis, Picea engelmannii, Populus tremuloides, Pseudotsuga menziesii, coniferous forests, conifers, insects, mortality, phylogeny, stand density, tree mortality, trees, North America
Tree mortality because of beetle outbreaks has become substantial and widespread in conifer forests in western North America. A number of environmental and physiological factors influence patterns of mortality. Tree diversity may reduce the severity and extent of insect damage to host trees by providing associational resistance, but the existence and importance of associational resistance varies by forest type and by tree and insect species. We assessed whether plot-level tree diversity contributed to survival of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry ex Engelm.) following a spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis Kirby) epidemic. Our study plots comprised 2 to 5 tree species including Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa (Hook) Nutt.), Douglas-fir (Pseudostuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.), and white fir (Abies concolor (Gordon & Glend.) Hildebr.). We used a model-selection analysis to compare the importance of tree diversity with other known factors that influence spruce survival. We found lower rates of spruce survival in stands where spruce was the dominant tree species (by percent of stand density index) and higher survival in stands where nonspruce conifers (Douglas-fir, subalpine, and white fir) were dominant. We also found that tree diversity (Shannon index) did not show a positive correlation to spruce survival and that there was no additional benefit derived from the presence of aspen, which has higher phylogenetic distance from Engelmann spruce than the other trees in this study. The relationship between diversity and survival is complicated by factors that naturally co-vary with diversity, such as elevation, aspect, and stand density of spruce. Our results best support an explanation that if associational resistance does increase spruce survival during a beetle epidemic, it is due to host or resource dilution, which may be an indirect effect of higher stand diversity.