, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 1837–1846 | Cite as

Variation in wood anatomical structure of Douglas-fir defoliated by the western spruce budworm: a case study in the coastal-transitional zone of British Columbia, Canada

  • J. N. Axelson
  • A. Bast
  • R. Alfaro
  • D. J. Smith
  • H. Gärtner
Original Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Phytopathology


Key message

An outbreak of the western spruce budworm temporarily modifies cellular wood anatomy of stem wood in natural and mature Douglas-fir stands impacting wood quality properties.


Western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman) is a widespread and destructive defoliator of commercially important coniferous forests in western North America. In British Columbia, Canada, Douglas-fir [Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco] is the most important and widely distributed host. Permanent sample plots were established at a number of locations in southern interior at the beginning of a severe western spruce budworm outbreak in the 1970s. Two of the sites were sampled in 2012 to determine whether modifications had occurred in the anatomical characteristics of stem wood formed during outbreak years. We determined that rings formed during the western spruce budworm 1976–1980 outbreak had a significantly lower proportion of latewood, reduced mean cell wall thickness and smaller radial cell diameters. While the cellular characteristics of the earlywood remained fairly constant, significant reductions in lumen area occurred in 1978 and 1979 at each site. Our study shows that western spruce budworm outbreaks not only reduce annual radial growth, but also temporarily modify cellular characteristics in latewood cells, which has implications for wood density and quality in Douglas-fir.


Cellular anatomy Tracheids Dendroecology Douglas-fir Western spruce budworm Defoliation event 


Author contribution statement

J. A. developed the study and hypothesis, conducted field, laboratory work, and statistical testing, primarily wrote the manuscript and produced tables and figures. A. B. supported statistical analyses. R. A. assisted in re-locating original permanent sample plots, provided the permanent plot dataset, contributed to the Study Area and Methods sections, and reviewed edited the manuscript. D. S. assisted in hypothesis development, contributed to the Introduction, Methods and Results sections and reviewed and edited the manuscript. H. G. contributed to hypothesis development, methodological development, supported wood anatomy and micro sectioning methods and interpretation, and contributed to the entire manuscript.


This study was made possible through funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (Axelson and Smith) and Michael Smith Foreign Supplement Award (Axelson) and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (Axelson and Smith). We are grateful for assistance provided in the field by Peter Sprague, and at WSL Birmensdorf from Fritz Schweingruber and Loïc Schneider.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Crown Copyright 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. N. Axelson
    • 1
  • A. Bast
    • 2
  • R. Alfaro
    • 3
  • D. J. Smith
    • 4
  • H. Gärtner
    • 2
  1. 1.British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, Cariboo Forest RegionWilliams LakeCanada
  2. 2.Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Landscape Dynamics/DendroecologyBirmensdorfSwitzerland
  3. 3.Canadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry CentreVictoriaCanada
  4. 4.Department of Geography, University of Victoria Tree-Ring LaboratoryUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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