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Terpenes Tell Different Tales at Different Scales: Glimpses into the Chemical Ecology of Conifer - Bark Beetle - Microbial Interactions

Abstract

Chemical signaling mediates nearly all aspects of species interactions. Our knowledge of these signals has progressed dramatically, and now includes good characterizations of the bioactivities, modes of action, biosynthesis, and genetic programming of numerous compounds affecting a wide range of species. A major challenge now is to integrate this information so as to better understand actual selective pressures under natural conditions, make meaningful predictions about how organisms and ecosystems will respond to a changing environment, and provide useful guidance to managers who must contend with difficult trade-offs among competing socioeconomic values. One approach is to place stronger emphasis on cross-scale interactions, an understanding of which can help us better connect pattern with process, and improve our ability to make mechanistically grounded predictions over large areas and time frames. The opportunity to achieve such progress has been heightened by the rapid development of new scientific and technological tools. There are significant difficulties, however: Attempts to extend arrays of lower-scale processes into higher scale functioning can generate overly diffuse patterns. Conversely, attempts to infer process from pattern can miss critically important lower-scale drivers in systems where their biological and statistical significance is negated after critical thresholds are breached. Chemical signaling in bark beetle - conifer interactions has been explored for several decades, including by the two pioneers after whom this award is named. The strong knowledge base developed by many researchers, the importance of bark beetles in ecosystem functioning, and the socioeconomic challenges they pose, establish these insects as an ideal model for studying chemical signaling within a cross-scale context. This report describes our recent work at three levels of scale: interactions of bacteria with host plant compounds and symbiotic fungi (tree level, biochemical time), relationships among inducible and constitutive defenses, population dynamics, and plastic host-selection behavior (stand level, ecological time), and climate-driven range expansion of a native eruptive species into semi-naïve and potentially naïve habitats (geographical level, evolutionary time). I approach this problem by focusing primarily on one chemical group, terpenes, by emphasizing the curvilinear and threshold-structured basis of most underlying relationships, and by focusing on the system’s feedback structure, which can either buffer or amplify relationships across scales.

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Acknowledgments

I first thank the International Society of Chemical Ecology for bestowing this award in recognition of two great pioneers. An honor of this nature provides an opportunity to thank those who have helped me so much. I’m especially indebted to three mentors from Washington State University, the ecologist Alan Berryman who challenged me to become more creative, the physiologist John Brown who challenged me to become more deliberate, and the biochemist Rod Croteau who challenged me to become more skillful. Each would be justified to disavow the hybrid monster they helped spawn. I’m particularly indebted to all my graduate students, undergrads and postdocs from whom I’m still learning, and the talented, hard-working, insightful collaborators who make interdisciplinary research so exciting. Staffan Lindgren (University of Northern British Columbia), and Jean-Claude-Gregoire (Universite Libre de Bruxelles), Tom Kolb (University of Northern Arizona), and two anonymous reviewers provided critical and helpful reviews. This work would not have been possible without support from NSF, USDA, US Forest Service, WI DNR, and UW, and the generous citizens who fund them. Most importantly, I’m indebted to my loving family for all their support and wisdom.

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Correspondence to Kenneth F. Raffa.

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In Honor of Milt Silverstein and John Simeone

Recipient of the 2011 ISCE Silverstein/Simeone award for outstanding research.

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Raffa, K.F. Terpenes Tell Different Tales at Different Scales: Glimpses into the Chemical Ecology of Conifer - Bark Beetle - Microbial Interactions. J Chem Ecol 40, 1–20 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-013-0368-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-013-0368-y

Keywords

  • Bark beetles
  • Conifers
  • Cross-scale interactions
  • Plant defense
  • Symbiosis
  • Terpenes