Neighbouring heterospecific plants are often observed to reduce the probability of herbivore attack on a given focal plant. While this pattern of associational resistance is frequently reported, experimental evidence for underlying mechanisms is rare particularly for potential plant species diversity effects on focal host plants and their physical environment. Here, we used an established forest diversity experiment to determine whether tree diversity effects on an important insect pest are driven by concomitant changes in host tree growth or the light environment. We examined the effects of tree species richness, canopy cover and tree growth on the probability of occurrence, the abundance, and volume of galls caused by the pineapple gall adelgid Adelges abietis on Norway spruce. Although tree diversity had no effect on gall abundance, we observed that both the probability of gall presence and gall volume (an indicator of maternal fecundity) decreased with tree species richness and canopy cover around host spruce trees. Structural equation models revealed that effects of tree species richness on gall presence and volume were mediated by concurrent increases in canopy cover rather than changes in tree growth or host tree density. As canopy cover did not influence tree or shoot growth, patterns of associational resistance appear to be driven by improved host tree quality or more favourable microclimatic conditions in monocultures compared to mixed-stands. Our study therefore demonstrates that changes in forest structure may be critical to understanding the responses of herbivores to plant diversity and may underpin associational effects in forest ecosystems.