Impact of hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) infestation on xylem structure and function and leaf physiology in eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Brett A. Huggett, Jessica A. Savage, Guang You Hao, Evan L. Preisser, N. Michele Holbrook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae Annand) (HWA) is an invasive insect that feeds upon the foliage of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carrière) trees, leading to a decline in health and often mortality. The exact mechanism leading to the demise of eastern hemlocks remains uncertain because little is known about how HWA infestation directly alters the host's physiology. To evaluate the physiological responses of eastern hemlock during early infestation of HWA, we measured needle loss, xylem hydraulic conductivity, vulnerability to cavitation, tracheid anatomy, leaf-level gas exchange, leaf water potential and foliar cation and nutrient levels on HWA-infested and noninfested even-aged trees in an experimental garden. HWA infestation resulted in higher xylem hydraulic conductivity correlated with an increase in average tracheid lumen area and no difference in vulnerability to cavitation, indicating that needle loss associated with HWA infestation could not be attributed to reduced xylem transport capacity. HWA-infested trees exhibited higher rates of net photosynthesis and significant changes in foliar nutrient partitioning, but showed no differences in branch increment growth rates compared with noninfested trees. This study suggests that HWA-induced decline in the health of eastern hemlock trees is not initially caused by compromised water relations or needle loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-508
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Plant Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Drs Elena M. Kramer and Donald H. Pfister for their valuable input regarding this study. Thanks are also extended to Alena Tofte, Liahna Gonda-King and Laura Radville for their assistance in the field and laboratory. We are particularly grateful to the University of Rhode Island for use of their facilities and the experimental garden at East Farm, Kingston, Rhode Island. This research was supported by funds provided by the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Harvard Forest Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, the Katherine H. Putnam Fellowship in Plant Science (to JAS) and the National Science Foundation Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Grant.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 CSIRO.


  • cavitation
  • foliar cations
  • hydraulic conductivity
  • photosynthesis


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