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Performance of the green spruce aphid, Elatobium abietinum (Walker) on previously defoliated Sitka spruce

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1 The green spruce aphid, Elatobium abietinum, is an important defoliator of Sitka spruce in the U.K. However, it is usual for years in which high E. abietinum populations occur to be followed by a year with low aphid densities. The possibility that the performance of E. abietinum is reduced on previously infested Sitka spruce, and that this is the cause of year-to-year fluctuations in population density, was investigated by comparing population development and the growth rate of individual aphids on experimentally defoliated trees.

2 Separate experiments were performed to determine whether aphid performance was reduced either in the autumn immediately after defoliation in the spring, or was reduced in the spring of the next year. Different rates of initial defoliation on trees used to test aphid performance were created by artificially infesting the trees with aphids in the spring before the experiments, and varying the time of infestation.

3 Population development and the mean relative growth rate (MRGR) of individual aphids on previously defoliated and undefoliated Sitka spruce did not differ significantly in the spring of the next year. No differences were observed in the nutrient content of the 1-year-old needles of previously defoliated or undefoliated trees at this time.

4 In the autumn and winter immediately after spring defoliation, aphid MRGR was significantly higher on trees that had been heavily defoliated earlier in the season compared with trees that had been lightly defoliated. However, the difference in MRGR decreased over the winter period. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium concentrations were 9.4–12.2% higher, at the beginning of the autumn, in the current year needles of heavily defoliated trees than in the current year needles of lightly defoliated trees.

5 The experiments indicate that high populations of E. abietinum in the spring do not induce any defensive mechanisms in Sitka spruce that adversely affect subsequent generations of the aphid. By contrast, the results suggest that high spring densities of the aphid improve the nutritional quality of the current year's foliage for autumn generations.
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Keywords: Defoliation; Elatobium abietinum; MRGR; Sitka spruce; induced defences; nutrients; population dynamics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Tree Health Division, Forest Research, Alice Holt Lodge, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4LH, U.K. and 2: School of Environmental Studies, University of Ulster, Cromore Road, Coleraine, County Londonderry BT52 1SA, U.K.

Publication date: 01 May 2005

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