Site- and tree-related factors affecting colonization of cork oaks Quercus suber L. by ambrosia beetles in Tunisia

Ambrosia beetles are emerging globally as important agents of tree death and decline. In this work, we observed highly variable attack intensity by ambrosia beetles in cork oak stands in Tunisia. A correlation between the proportion of infested trees and average temperature was found. Tree diameter and tree phytosanitary variables further contribute to the attack densities of ambrosia beetles. Results can be relevant for preventive measures aiming to conserve this natural forest heritage.

Context Cork oak woodlands comprise a unique Mediterranean ecosystem supporting rich biological diversity and providing multiple services. A decline of cork oak forests has been observed in several regions of the Mediterranean Basin in the last four decades, which can be related to climate change, novel biotic agents, and changes in management practices. The ambrosia beetles have been one of the major biotic agents associated with cork oak decline, mostly in the western Mediterranean.
Aims Assess the presence and attack densities of ambrosia beetles in cork oak Tunisian forests.
Methods A total of 15 sites located in North Western of Tunisia, comprising 729 sample trees were evaluated. Using generalized linear models, the presence and density of ambrosia beetles’ holes were related to tree and site variables. Variables related to climate, tree (dendrometric parameters, debarking intensity) and biotic agents were examined.
Results The proportion of trees attacked per site varied from 0 to 100%; in four sites, it exceeded 50%. At the site level, the average temperature and tree diameter were the main variables explaining the proportion of attacked trees. Sites with warmer climates showed higher incidence of ambrosia beetles. At the tree level, the presence of attacks increased with tree diameter and concomitantly with intensity of debarking, as well as the presence of tree trunk cavities.
Conclusion The presence and density of insect attacks were related to tree diameter, area of debarking, and phytosanitary conditions. However, 19% of the trees attacked by ambrosia beetles had no signs of other biotic agents or decline. At the site level, attack rates increased with temperature and tree diameter. A warmer climate may change insect behavior from that of a non-aggressive pest to that of an aggressive bark beetle. Adaptive forest management practices are needed to reduce infestations.

Platypus cylindrus, Climate, Tree decline, Forest management, Forest risk, Temperature

Bellahirech, A., Branco, M., Catry, F.X. et al. Annals of Forest Science (2019) 76: 45.

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Data availability
The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the Dryad Digital Repository. Bellahirech et al. (2019) Site- and tree-related factors affecting colonization of cork oaks Quercus suber L. by ambrosia beetles in Tunisia. Dryad. [Dataset]. Accessed 04 March 2019.

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