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New Phytol. 2005 Aug;167(2):353-75.

Anatomical and chemical defenses of conifer bark against bark beetles and other pests.

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School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4236, USA.


Conifers are long-lived organisms, and part of their success is due to their potent defense mechanisms. This review focuses on bark defenses, a front line against organisms trying to reach the nutrient-rich phloem. A major breach of the bark can lead to tree death, as evidenced by the millions of trees killed every year by specialized bark-invading insects. Different defense strategies have arisen in conifer lineages, but the general strategy is one of overlapping constitutive mechanical and chemical defenses overlaid with the capacity to up-regulate additional defenses. The defense strategy incorporates a graded response from 'repel', through 'defend' and 'kill', to 'compartmentalize', depending upon the advance of the invading organism. Using a combination of toxic and polymer chemistry, anatomical structures and their placement, and inducible defenses, conifers have evolved bark defense mechanisms that work against a variety of pests. However, these can be overcome by strategies including aggregation pheromones of bark beetles and introduction of virulent phytopathogens. The defense structures and chemicals in conifer bark are reviewed and questions about their coevolution with bark beetles are discussed.

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