• Bark beetles;
  • climate change;
  • crown transparency;
  • drought;
  • needle loss;
  • pest insects;
  • pine decline

Abstract 1. In several dry inner Alpine valleys higher mortality levels of pine have been observed in recent years. This paper evaluates the role of xylophagous insects in the current pine decline and the influence of climate change on the infestation dynamics.

2. More than 200 trees of different levels of crown transparency (needle loss) were felled between 2001 and 2005 and sections of them incubated in insect emergence traps. Colonisation densities were related to the transparency level of each host tree at the time of attack.

3. Trees with more than 80% needle loss were colonised most frequently, but the breeding density was highest in trees with 65–80% needle loss.

4. The scolytine Ips acuminatus and the buprestid Phaenops cyanea colonised trees with 30–90% needle loss in high densities. The bark beetle Tomicus minor was less aggressive, preferring trees with 60–85% needle loss. The hymenopteran Sirex noctilio and the cerambycid Acanthocinus aedilis were restricted to greatly weakened trees with 50–85% needle loss. Most species colonised trees that had experienced a decline in vigour, that is an increase in crown transparency shortly before attack.

5. The infestation dynamics of P. cyanea covaried with the drought index as well as with temperature.

6. Increased temperatures not only trigger a drought stress rendering the host trees susceptible to insect attack, but also accelerate insect development. As more frequent drought periods are likely as a result of climate change, even trees only slightly or temporarily weakened will be more subject to attack by aggressive species such as I. acuminatus and P. cyanea.