Recent evidence of range expansion and host transition by mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins; MPB) has suggested that MPB may not primarily breed in their natal host, but will switch hosts to an alternate tree species. As MPB populations expanded in lodgepole pine forests in the southern Rocky Mountains, we investigated the potential for movement into adjacent ponderosa pine forests. We conducted field and laboratory experiments to evaluate four aspects of MPB population dynamics and host selection behavior in the two hosts: emergence timing, sex ratios, host choice, and reproductive success. We found that peak MPB emergence from both hosts occurred simultaneously between late July and early August, and the sex ratio of emerging beetles did not differ between hosts. In two direct tests of MPB host selection, we identified a strong preference by MPB for ponderosa versus lodgepole pine. At field sites, we captured naturally emerging beetles from both natal hosts in choice arenas containing logs of both species. In the laboratory, we offered sections of bark and phloem from both species to individual insects in bioassays. In both tests, insects infested ponderosa over lodgepole pine at a ratio of almost 2: 1, regardless of natal host species. Reproductive success (offspring/female) was similar in colonized logs of both hosts. Overall, our findings suggest that MPB may exhibit equally high rates of infestation and fecundity in an alternate host under favorable conditions.
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Vol. 45 • No. 1