To estimate the susceptibility of conifer seedlings to aphids under future tropospheric ozone levels, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) seedlings were exposed to ambient and elevated ozone levels in an open-air exposure system. Growth and reproduction of the aphids Schizolachnus pineti and Cinara pinea on Scots pine and Cinara pilicornis on Norway spruce were monitored. Levels of free amino acids in foliage and young shoots were used as indicators of host plant quality. In elevated treatment plots the ozone doses were between 1.2 and 1.7 times the dose in ambient plots in 1990–93. Half of the seedling material in 1992–93 was subjected to nitrogen fertilization treatment to evaluate the effects of increased N deposition.

In 1990, population density of S. pineti on pine did not differ between ambient and elevated ozone treatments during growing season, but remained higher in the elevated ozone plot than in the ambient plot at the end of the growing season. This was associated with elevated levels of glutamic acid in foliage. In August 1992, the numbers of S. pineti were consistent between the two ambient ozone plots, but deviated highly between the two ozone-fumigated plots. Glycine concentration in pine foliage was elevated by ozone, but free amino acid concentrations were not related to aphid performance. In 1993, ozone and nitrogen did not significantly affect the relative growth rate (RGR) of S. pineti or C. pinea nymphs on Scots pine, but glutamic acid concentration in foliage was increased by nitrogen fertilization. On Norway spruce, fecundity of C. pilicornis females was higher in elevated ozone treatment, but RGR of nymphs was not affected in 1992. In 1993, RGR of C. pilicornis nymphs was increased by nitrogen fertilization in June, but not affected by ozone. Nitrogen fertilization increased the levels of total free amino acids, aspartic acid, glutamic acid and proline in elongating shoots of Norway spruce, and ozone reduced the concentrations of valine and γ-butyric acid.

Our results suggest that availability of nitrogen from soil has a stronger impact on the concentrations of free amino acids in conifer seedlings than ozone. Some episodes of high ozone concentration may increase free amino acids in foliage. Aphid response to ozone was extremely variable, in agreement with previous laboratory experiments. The expected 20–70% increase in ambient concentrations of tropospheric ozone may in some occasions enhance aphid performance on Scots pine and Norway spruce seedlings, but in most cases the ozone effect on the susceptibility of conifer seedlings to sucking insect pests is not important.