The role of sugars in western spruce budworm nutritional ecology


Dr K. M. Clancy, Rocky Mountain Forest & Range Experiment Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, 700 S. Knoles Drive, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, U.S.A.



  • 1The western spruce budworm, Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman, and Douglas-fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco, have been used to test the hypothesis that variation in levels of foliar sugars form part of the basis for plant resistance to herbivore attack.
  • 2Budworm population growth was evaluated on artificial diets with 2–45% sucrose using a three generation bioassay. Diets with 1.2% and 3.9% N were tested to determine if responses to sugar were dependent on levels of protein. The 3.9% N diets were supplemented with a mineral salt mixture, so they had high levels of N and minerals.
  • 3The response of budworm population growth to sucrose concentrations ≤20% was convex at 1.2% N and flat for 3.9% N. Population growth on the 1.2% N diet, which had levels of N and minerals similar to host foliage, was good with only 2% sugar, but optimal at the 6% sucrose level; the number of F1, F2 and F3 larvae produced declined substantially when sugar was increased to 11% and 20%. On the 3.9% N diets, population growth was equivalent for diets with 2% and 11% sucrose. Sucrose concentrations ≥29% were detrimental to the budworm at both N levels.
  • 4Sugar concentrations in Douglas-fir foliage varied between 5.7% and 18.4%. Thus, results from the 1.2% N experiment indicated that budworm performance was best on diets with sugar concentrations near the lower limit observed for host foliage. This implies that plants with higher foliar sugar may be inferior hosts for the budworm. Field observations supported this conclusion, as putatively resistant Douglas-fir trees had significantly higher levels of sugars in their foliage than nearby paired susceptible trees. Variation in foliar sugars among individual trees may be part of the mechanism in Douglas-fir resistance to C.occidentalis damage.