Herbivory and tree mortality across a pinyon pine hybrid zone

Kerry M. Christensen, Thomas G. Whitham, Paul Keim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


We examined the abundances of three common insect herbivores on pure and hybrid pinyon pines along a 250-km transect in west-central Arizona, United States. Using six morphological traits, we developed a hybrid index to classify trees as pure Pinus californiarum, hybrid, or pure Pinus edulis. The insects (the stem-boring moth, Dioryctria albovittella, the scale insect, Matsucoccus acalyptus, and several species of pitch moths that produce wounds on the trunk and branches) exhibited different distributional patterns across tree types. Stem-boring moths were significantly more abundant on trees at "hybrid" sites compared to trees at "pure" sites. In addition, within hybrid sites, hybrids supported significantly more moth larvae than pure trees of either species. These two patterns support the hybrid susceptibility hypothesis in which hybrid breakdown results in increased susceptibility to herbivory. In contrast to stem-borers, there were significantly more pitch moth wounds on trees at pure P. californiarum sites than at hybrid and pure P. edulis sites. Within the hybrid zone, pitch moth abundance was equal on pure P. californiarum and hybrids, and both were significantly greater than on pure P. edulis. These within-site comparisons support the dominance hypothesis where hybrid resistance differs from one tree species, but not the other. Scale insects exhibited the most restricted distribution; over the 250 km transect they were found only in the hybrid zone. This supports the hybrid susceptibility and/or the stress hypothesis (i.e., species at the edge of their range suffer greater stress and are more susceptible to herbivory). We summed the mean numbers of these three common herbivores across sites and found that hybrid sites supported 2.1 and 3.9 times more herbivores than pure P. californiarum and P. edulis sites, respectively. Furthermore, tree mortality was on average, 35 times greater within the hybrid zone compared to pure zones of each species and was associated with the cumulative abundance of herbivores (r2=0.646). Regardless of whether this mortality is due to insect infestation, stress or a combination of both, these results suggest that hybrid zones are important arenas of natural selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-36
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1995


  • Dioryctria albovittella
  • Herbivory
  • Hybrid Matsucoccus acalyptus
  • Pinus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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