Landscape-scale genetic variation in a forest outbreak species, the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae)


Karen Mock, Fax: (435) 797 3796; E-mail:


The mountain pine beetle Dendroctonus ponderosae is a native species currently experiencing large-scale outbreaks in western North American pine forests. We sought to describe the pattern of genetic variation across the range of this species, to determine whether there were detectable genetic differences between D. ponderosae occupying different host trees in common localities, and to determine whether there was molecular evidence for a past demographic expansion. Using a combination of amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and mitochondrial sequencing analyses, we found evidence of genetic structuring among populations that followed a broad isolation-by-distance pattern. Our results suggest that the geographical pattern of gene flow follows the core distribution of the principal D. ponderosae host species, around rather than across the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts. Patterns of haplotype diversity and divergence were consistent with a range-wide population expansion. This signal was particularly pronounced in the northern part of the species’ range, where outbreak activity is currently increasing. Using AFLP markers, we were unable to detect significant differences among groups of insects sampled from different host trees in common locations. Incidentally, we found that a large proportion of the polymorphic AFLP markers were gender-specific, occurring only in males. While we did not include these markers in our analyses, this finding warrants further investigation.