UM Researcher Finds Genetic Differences in Trees Untouched by Mountain Pine Beetles

August 16, 2018

UM Professor Diana Six collects a core sample from a study site.MISSOULA – A University of Montana researcher has discovered that mountain pine beetles may avoid certain trees within a population they normally would kill due to genetics in the trees.

UM Professor Diana Six made the discovery after studying mature whitebark and lodgepole trees that were the age and size that mountain pine beetle prefer, but had somehow escaped attack during the recent outbreak.

After DNA screening, survivor trees all contained a similar genetic makeup that was distinctly different from the general population that were mostly susceptible to the beetle.

“Our findings suggest that survivorship is genetically based and, thus, heritable,” Six said, “which is what gives us hope.”

In western North America, whitebark pine, a high elevation keystone species recommended for listing as an endangered species, and lodgepole pine, a widespread ecologically and economically important tree, have experienced extensive mortality in recent climate-driven outbreaks of the mountain pine beetle.

“Our results suggest that surviving trees possess a wealth of information that can be used to inform our understanding of the genetic and phenotypic bases for resistance and to develop management approaches that support forest adaptation,” Six said.

The study was published July 23 in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science and is available online at http://bit.ly/2PdDW3V. Since its publication, it has received nearly 1,000 views.

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Contact: Diana Six, professor of forest entomology/pathology, UM W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, 406-531-1813, diana.six@umontana.edu.