To understand climate change, dendrochronologists have used tree ring analyses to reconstruct past climates, as well as ecological processes such as herbivore population dynamics. Such reconstructions, however, have been hindered by a lack of experiments that separate the influences of confounding impacts on tree rings, such as herbivores and the interactions of multiple factors. Our long-term experiments with scale insects on resistant and susceptible pines demonstrate three major points that are important to the application of this commonly used tool. (i) Herbivory reduced tree ring growth by 25-35%. (ii) The impact on ring growth distorted climate reconstruction, resulting in the overestimation of past moisture levels by more than 2-fold. Our data suggest that, if distortion because of herbivory has been a problem in previous reconstructions, estimates of the magnitude of recent climate changes are likely to be conservative. (iii) Our studies support a detectible plant resistance x herbivore x climate interaction in the tree ring record. Because resistance and susceptibility to herbivory are known to be genetically based in many systems, the potential exists to incorporate plant genetics into the field of dendrochronology, where it may be used to screen distortions from the tree ring record.
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