Alberta study: Pine trees may warn one other of pine beetle attacks

A study done in Canada has found that lodgepole pine trees may be able to release chemicals to warn one another about threats. This view of spruce trees on the La Sal Mountains shows healthy stands of forest. The study conducted in Alberta is the first to establish above-ground tree-to-tree communication in pines by using chemical messages. Photo by Sena Hauer

As the southwestern United States continues to see the die-off of pinion and juniper trees, a new study from the University of Alberta is the first to show that lodgepole pines release chemicals to warn related trees of threats and help them boost their defenses.

Results of the study were published on the web site www.folio.ca. “Lodgepole pines attacked by mountain pine beetles release volatile chemical compounds to warn related trees of the incoming threat,” said a statement in the study. The research was published in Science of the Total Environment, and is the first to establish above-ground tree-to-tree communication in pines by using chemical messages.

The messages from the attacked tree can only be decoded by its closest relatives, not by strangers, said Altaf Hussain, a PhD candidate who led the study. “This communication between the neighboring related pines allows the healthy trees to prepare for the attack by boosting up their chemical defenses,” he added.

Hussain is working under the supervision of University of Alberta forest entomologist Nadir Erbilgin, and he said kinship support among trees has been shown in the past, but through other mechanisms like communicating root networks. “For example, a dying tree will transport its resources to younger, related trees. Others share genetic materials in the same way,” the story reported.

“As far as I know, there is no research that shows kinship support through volatile organic chemicals, so it’s quite exciting,” Hussain explained.

Read more at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971933325X.