Interspecific variation in resistance of Asian, European, and North American birches (Betula spp.) to bronze birch borer (Coleoptera: Buprestidae)

Environ Entomol. 2011 Jun;40(3):648-53. doi: 10.1603/EN10227.


Bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius Gory) is the key pest of birches (Betula spp.) in North America, several of which have been recommended for ornamental landscapes based on anecdotal reports of borer resistance that had not been confirmed experimentally. In a 20-yr common garden experiment initiated in 1979 in Ohio, North American birch species, including paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marshall), 'Whitespire' gray birch (Betula populifolia Marshall), and river birch (Betula nigra L.), were much more resistant to bronze birch borer than species indigenous to Europe and Asia, including European white birch (Betula pendula Roth), downy birch (Betula pubescens Ehrh.), monarch birch (Betula maximowicziana Regel), and Szechuan white birch (Betula szechuanica Jansson). Within 8 yr of planting, every European white, downy, and Szechuan birch had been colonized and killed, although 100% of monarch birch had been colonized and 88% of these plants were killed after nine years. Conversely, 97% of river birch, 76% of paper birch, and 73% Whitespire gray birch were alive 20 yr after planting, and river birch showed no evidence of colonization. This pattern is consistent with biogeographic theory of plant defense: North American birch species that share a coevolutionary history with bronze birch borer were much more resistant than naïve hosts endemic to Europe and Asia, possibly by virtue of evolution of targeted defenses. This information suggests that if bronze birch borer were introduced to Europe or Asia, it could threaten its hosts there on a continental scale. This study also exposed limitations of anecdotal observation as evidence of host plant resistance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asia
  • Betula / parasitology*
  • Coleoptera / physiology*
  • Europe
  • Host Specificity*
  • North America