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Secondary insects and diseases contribute to sudden aspen decline in southwestern Colorado, USA

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Reports of drought-associated forest mortality have increased around the world, but the mechanisms of mortality are rarely direct in nature. Biotic agents may kill trees that could otherwise recover and can perpetuate and expand mortality after the stress is relieved. Sudden aspen decline (SAD) has caused rapid, widespread branch dieback and mortality of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.). We compared insects and diseases in 162 damaged and neighboring healthy plots to determine contributing factors and their ecological roles. Cytospora canker, bronze poplar borer, and aspen bark beetles were the most common agents in damaged plots and correlated with crown loss and other factors related to SAD. This was the first documented outbreak of Trypophloeus populi, an aspen bark beetle. As bark beetles and bronze poplar borer increased in damaged stands, they tended to attack trees with healthier crowns. Environmental stress may have directly affected the success of these agents by increasing host susceptibility followed by a density-dependent increase in the insects’ invasive ability. In contrast, Cytospora canker had an identical relationship to crown loss in healthy versus damaged plots, suggesting that it was not limited by inoculum but responded to host susceptibility. Most other pathogens and insects contributed little to SAD and appear to be primary or weakening agents. The biotic agents of mortality in a decline differ greatly from primary agents and play complex and varied roles in healthy versus declining stands.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2011

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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