Increased moth herbivory associated with environmental stress of pinyon pine at local and regional levels

Neil S. Cobb, Susan Mopper, Catherine A. Gehring, Matt Caouette, Kerry M. Christensen, Thomas G. Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Using 6 years of observational and experimental data, we examined the hypothesis water and nutrient stress increase the susceptibility of pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) to the stem- and cone-boring moth (Dioryctria albovittella). At two geographic levels, a local scale of 550 km2 and a regional scale of 10,000 km2, moth herbivory was strongly correlated with an edaphic stress gradient. At a local scale, from the cinder soils of Sunset Crater to nearby sandy-loam soils, nine of ten soil macro- and micronutrients, and soil water content were lowest in cinder-dominated soils. Herbivore damage was six times greater on trees growing in the most water and nutrient deficient site at Sunset Crater compared to sites will well-developed soils. Percentage silt-clay content of soil, which was highly positively correlated with soil nutrient and soil moisture at a local scale, accounted for 56% of the variation in herbivory at a regional scale among 22 sites. Within and across sites, increased stem resin flow was positively associated with reduced moth attack. On the basis of moth distribution across a stress gradient, we predicted that pinyons growing in highly stressful environments would show increased resistance to herbivores if supplemented with water and/or nutrients. We conducted a 6-year experiment at a high-stress site where individual trees received water only, fertilizer only, and water + fertilizer. Relative to control trees, stem growth and resin flow increased in all three treatments, but only significantly in the water + fertilizer treatment. Although there was no significant difference in herbivore damage among these three treatments, there was an overall reduction in herbivore damage on all treatment trees combined, compared to control trees. This experiment suggests that release from stress leads to increased resistance to insect attack and is consistent with our observational data. While other studies have predicted that short-term stress will result in herbivore outbreaks, our studies extend this prediction to chronically stressed host populations. Finally, while flush-feeders are not predicted to respond positively to stressed host plants, we found a positive association between herbivore attack and stressed pinyon populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-397
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 1997


  • Dioryctria albovittella
  • Herbivory
  • Pinus edulis
  • Stress
  • Vigor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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