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Pine mistletoe (Viscum album ssp. austriacum) contributes to Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) mortality in the Rhone valley of Switzerland

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In recent years unusual high mortality of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) has been observed in the Swiss Rhone Valley. The exact causes, however, are not known. At a 2-ha monitoring plot, tree mortality and crown condition have been monitored since 1996. Between 1996 and 2004, 59% of the Scots pines died, most of them following the drought periods 1996–1998 and 2003–2004, while only 15% of the deciduous trees died. Crown transparency, needle discolouration, dead branch percentage, mistletoe (Viscum album ssp. austriacum) rating, Tomicus sp. shoot feeding, male flowering effect, tree stem diameter, crown shading and social tree class assessed in 1998 were used in a logistic regression model to predict tree mortality. Crown transparency, mistletoe rating and percentage of dead branches were found significant in the model and the probability of tree mortality increased with increasing rankings of these parameters. Needle discolouration could be used to substitute ‘dead branch percentage’ as predictor. While crown transparency increased with mistletoe rating, for trees in the same transparency class, trees with medium and heavy mistletoe infection were two to four times more likely to die than trees with no or only low mistletoe infection. For the surviving trees we found that trees with mistletoes showed a significantly higher increase in transparency in the year following a drought than trees without, while in a drought year the opposite was true. At the beginning of the observations no significant differences in transparency had been found between the trees with and without mistletoe. However, by the end of the observation period trees with mistletoe had significantly higher crown transparency. We conclude that mistletoe infection can be considered as both a predisposing factor for tree death, by increasing needle loss following drought and a contributing factor by increasing water stress during drought.

Document Type: Research Article


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Publication date: October 1, 2006

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