The effects of western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis) defoliation on Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii): disturbance dynamics from the landscape to the cellular level




Axelson, Jodi N.

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The western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman) is the most widespread and destructive defoliator of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) forests in British Columbia. Over the past two decades, western spruce budworm outbreaks have been sustained and widespread in the interior of British Columbia, leaving the forest industry and many forest-dependent communities increasingly vulnerable to the economic consequences of these outbreaks. While a great deal is known about the impact of western spruce budworm outbreaks on tree growth and form, substantial knowledge gaps remain as to the historic variability of western spruce budworm outbreaks and the consequences of defoliation on fundamental characteristics such as wood structure. This research focused on describing historic and contemporary western spruce budworm outbreaks across multiple spatial and temporal scales in south-central British Columbia using dendrochronology and wood anatomy techniques. Outbreak histories over the past 435 years were reconstructed using a network of tree-ring chronologies from central British Columbia, revealing that 12 western spruce budworm outbreaks have occurred since the early 1600s, with a mean return interval of 30 years. Further, the research illustrates that outbreaks observed over the last 40 years are not unprecedented, which does not support the perception that western spruce budworm is moving northward into central British Columbia. To evaluate the effects of a single western spruce budworm outbreak on the anatomical characteristics of Douglas-fir stemwood, tree ring data was collected from permanent sample plots that sustained both periodic and chronic western spruce budworm feeding. In mature even-aged stands of Douglas-fir, a documented outbreak occurred from 1976 to 1980 in the coastal transition zone of southern British Columbia. Based on microscopic wood anatomical measurements it was shown that the tree rings formed during this outbreak had significantly lower percentages of latewood, reduced mean cell wall thickness and smaller radial cell diameters relative to wood formed during periods without budworm feeding. Western spruce budworm defoliation temporarily modified cellular characteristics, which has implications for wood quality. In uneven-aged stands of mature Douglas-fir, located in the xeric southern interior of British Columbia, there has been a sustained western spruce budworm outbreak since 1997. Tree rings formed during this outbreak had progressively larger earlywood lumen area and radial cell diameter, reduced latewood cell wall thickness, latewood radial cell diameters, and lower percent latewood. Mixed-effects models revealed that climatic variables, defoliation severity, defoliation duration, and in limited cases canopy class were the best predictors of xylem features. The severity and duration of western spruce budworm defoliation, as well as site factors that influence moisture conditions effect the degree and direction of anatomical changes in the stemwood of Douglas-fir. This research fills a number of knowledge gaps by providing insights into the temporal and spatial dynamics of western spruce budworm outbreaks in central British Columbia over multiple centuries, and the plasticity of anatomical features in the stemwood of Douglas-fir during discrete western spruce budworm outbreaks. These research findings suggest that Douglas-fir forests are resilient to western spruce budworm outbreaks over space and time.



Dendroecology, tree rings, wood anatomy, tracheid, xylem, forest disturbance, insect outbreak, Douglas-fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, western spruce budworm, Choristoneura occidentalis, defoliation, forest health, forest management, resilience, Interior Douglas-fir zone