Micromechanical properties that help mediate herbivore access may be particularly important when considering herbivorous insects that feed with piercing-sucking stylets. We used microindentation to quantify the micromechanical properties of hemlock, Tsuga spp., to quantify the hardness of the feeding site of the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid, Adelges tsugae. We measured hardness of the hemlock leaf cushion, the stylet insertion point of the adelgid, across four seasons in a 1 y period for four hemlock species growing in a common garden, including eastern, western, mountain, and northern Japanese hemlocks. Leaf cushion hardness was highest in the fall and winter and lowest in summer for all species. Northern Japanese hemlock had relatively greater hardness than the remaining species. Our data contributes an additional perspective to the existing framework within which greater susceptibility and subsequent mortality of eastern hemlocks is observed. The potential application of microindentation to understanding the nature and relevance of plant mechanical defenses in plant–herbivore interactions is also demonstrated and highlighted.

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Published in Insects, v. 5, no. 2, p. 364-376.

© 2014 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

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This research was supported by the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published as Experiment Station Report 14-08-009.