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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Insect defoliation is linked to a decrease in soil ectomycorrhizal biomass and shifts in needle endophytic communities

Castano, Carles; Camarero, J. Julio; Zas, Rafael; Sampedro, Luis; Bonet, Jose Antonio; Alday, Josu G.; Oliva, Jonas


Insect outbreaks of increasing frequency and severity in forests are predicted due to climate change. Insect herbivory is known to promote physiological changes in forest trees. However, little is known about whether these plant phenotypic adjustments have cascading effects on tree microbial symbionts such as fungi in roots and foliage. We studied the impact of defoliation by the pine processionary moth in two infested Pinus nigra forests through a multilevel sampling of defoliated and non-defoliated trees. We measured tree growth, nutritional status and carbon allocation to chemical defenses. Simultaneously, we analysed the putative impact of defoliation on the needle endophytes and on the soil fungal communities. Higher concentrations of chemical defenses were found in defoliated trees, likely as a response to defoliation; however, no differences in non-structural carbohydrate reserves were found. In parallel to the reductions in tree growth and changes in chemical defenses, we observed shifts in the composition of needle endophytic and soil fungal communities in defoliated trees. Defoliated trees consistently corresponded with a lower biomass of ectomycorrhizal fungi in both sites, and a higher alpha diversity and greater relative abundance of belowground saprotrophs and pathogens. However, ectomycorrhizal alpha diversity was similar between non-defoliated and defoliated trees. Specific needle endophytes in old needles were strongly associated with non-defoliated trees. The potential role of these endophytic fungi in pine resistance should be further investigated. Our study suggests that lower biomass of ectomycorrhizal fungi in defoliated trees might slow down tree recovery since fungal shifts might affect tree-mycorrhizal feedbacks and can potentially influence carbon and nitrogen cycling in forest soils.


carbon reserves; chemical defenses; insect outbreak; plant-fungi interactions; plant-herbivore interactions; Thaumetopoea pityocampa

Published in

Tree Physiology
2020, Volume: 40, number: 12, pages: 1712-1725

    Associated SLU-program

    SLU Plant Protection Network

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

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