By Michelle Ma
About 450 nonnative, plant-eating insect species live in North American forests. Most of these critters are harmless, but a handful wreak havoc on their new environment, attacking trees and each year causing more than $70 billion in damage.
The problem is, scientists often don’t know which insect will emerge as the next harmful invader.
A team led by the University of Washington, drawing largely on the evolutionary history of insect-plant interactions, has developed a way to understand how nonnative insects might behave in their new environments. The team’s model, described in a paper appearing Oct. 17 in the journal Ecology and Evolution, could help foresters predict which insect invasions will be problematic, and help managers decide where to allocate resources to avoid widespread tree death.
“What makes the bad invaders so special? That has been the million-dollar question, for decades,” said Patrick Tobin, an associate professor in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and one of the project leaders. “This has the potential to profoundly change how we predict the impact of nonnative species and prioritize limited resources used to mitigate these impacts.”
The new model can quickly evaluate whether a newcomer insect, even before it gets here, has a high probability of killing a population of North American trees. To use the model, all that’s needed is information about the insect’s feeding method (wood, sap or leaf feeder, for example) and what trees it feeds on in its native range. The model will then determine whether any North American trees are at risk of dying from it.
Whether a nonnative insect takes hold and becomes destructive has more to do with the evolutionary history between the new (North American) host tree and the insect’s native host tree from its home region, Mech explained. Molecular tools that allow scientists to construct comprehensive phylogenies (or maps) of how tree species evolved was key to the team’s breakthrough.
For example, if a pine tree in Asia and another in North America diverged tens of millions of years ago, the North American pine likely wouldn’t have retained defenses against an insect that only lives with the pine in Asia. Alternatively, two pines on both continents that share more evolutionary history and diverged more recently might still share similar defenses.
The new model helps identify the evolutionary “perfect storm” for conifers, where the invasive insect still recognizes the new tree as a food source, but the tree hasn’t retained adequate defenses to keep the invader in check.
By Mary Frost
“Today is a great day for our urban forest.”
The insect that threatened to wipe out tens of thousands of the city’s trees has been squashed.
State, city and federal agencies announced on Thursday that the Asian longhorned beetle has finally been eradicated in Brooklyn and Queens, the last two holdouts in the city.
At a celebration in McCarren Park in Williamsburg, cupcakes decorated with pictures of the distinctive black insect were served to jubilant parkgoers and agriculture and horticulture experts.
“Today is a great day for our urban forest as we announce the eradication of the Asian longhorned beetle,” announced Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner of the city’s Parks Department. “It was a bleak day for forestry in New York City when this pest was discovered. Half of the hardwood trees in New York State are susceptible.”
The successful eradication was the result of a decadeslong collaborative effort by multiple city, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and private landowners, officials said.
These include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets and Department of Environmental Conservation, and the city’s Department of Parks.
“It’s been a long, hard road,” USDA’s Samantha Simon said. “We knew that if it became established, the Asian longhorned beetle would threaten billions of dollars’ worth of timber [and] the maple syrup industry.”
The insect attacks maple, elm, willow, horse-chestnut, mulberry, birch, green ash, sycamore and London planetrees.
It’s been 23 years since the invasive beetle (technically not a bug) was first detected in Brooklyn. Experts believe it entered the country on wooden pallets shipped to Greenpoint.
The USDA calculated the speckled insect, about the size of a waterbug with antennae as long as its body, has wiped out more than 24,000 New York trees, and 180,000 nationwide. Thursday’s announcement marks the end of a six-year quarantine in northern Brooklyn and Queens.
To eliminate the beetle, APHIS regulated the movement of trees, firewood and woody debris and carried out surveys to find and remove infested trees. In total, APHIS removed 5,208 infested trees and treated 67,609 at-risk trees.
WELZOW: Germany’s forests have long been treasured by its people, so the country has reacted with alarm and dismay as a beetle infestation has turned climate-stressed woodlands into brown ecological graveyards.
After two unusually hot summers in a row, vast patches of the forests mythologised by medieval fairytales, Goethe’s writings and Romantic painters have turned into tinder-dry dead zones.
Given the scale of the threat to the one third of German territory covered by trees, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government convened a “national forest summit” on Wednesday.
There Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner pledged 800 million euros (about $880 million) in federal and state funds over four years to restore the 180,000 hectares of forest destroyed by drought and pests as well as storms and fires — the equivalent of 250,000 football pitches.
The chief culprit has been the tiny bark beetle, which has gone on a rampage as trees in water-starved habitats have lost their natural defences.
In vast parts of Germany, like Welzow forest 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Berlin, once healthy trees have become defoliated skeletons, their trunks marked by tell-tale networks of tiny tunnels.
“The insect eats the bark and lays eggs inside,” said forest ranger Arne Barkhausen. “The larvae then start to eat the trunk and block the nutrient pathways of the tree, which dies in about four weeks.”
By Sam Lounsberry, Boulder Daily Camera
Even as Boulder County foresters press on in their fight against the invasive emerald ash borer harming the local tree population, officials acknowledge it is a losing battle.
But it is one lovers of ash trees don’t have to walk away from empty-handed, even as sickened trees are in line for removal or have already been sawed to stave off the infestation.
Woodworkers like Evan Kinsley, who started the Boulder-based business Sustainable Arbor Works several years ago, have turned to ash trees to supply their furniture and art crafting practices as a way to maintain the local benefit provided by the species slated for a countywide death at the hands of the insect. Emerald ash borer has already dramatically altered the composition of forests across the middle and eastern regions of the country.
“It’s a privilege to be able to work with a local hardwood like ash,” Kinsely said.
When he first learned of the 2013 detection of emerald ash borer in Boulder — it has since spread to Longmont, Lafayette, Lyons and Superior, but until last month, when it was first detected in Broomfield, Boulder County remained the only area in the Mountain West with a confirmed presence — Kinsley and his now-business partner Aaron Taddiken looked at each other and said, “We have to do something.”
The solution was to build a wood kiln to speed up the drying process for felled trees, and now Kinsely focuses on harvesting trees removed from the urban landscape, a large proportion of which are ash due to the pesky beetle’s invasion, and reusing them for wholesale lumber slabs and designing and building custom furniture.
“It used to be most of this time, that a lot of woodworkers got their wood from big wood suppliers. That would come from all over the country, all over the world,” Kinsley said. “It’s not a new thing to use local lumber. But it was a new idea for smaller woodworkers, smaller lumber mills to start working with tree (removal) companies.”
Supporting Kinsley’s living is not the life cycle he prefers for the trees, but he feels he is making the best out of a bad situation…
While the city and Boulder County continue treating public ash trees to keep them alive as long as possible using pesticide applications, tree adoption programs and biological weapons, enforcement against declining ash trees on private property continues to ramp up.
In 2018, Read said the city sent 182 letters to private property owners asking them to address declining ash trees posing safety hazard; in 2017 the number was 118, in 2016 it was 82. This year he expects to send a significantly larger number of such letters. The growing number of letters aligns with the advance of the beetle infestation. Tree owners who receive such a letter will have to show the city a good-faith effort is being made to remove trees considered dangerous.
But work to preserve ash trees still free of the emerald ash borer goes on, even as replanting species that won’t be affected by the invasive bug remains the focus of foresters for the future of Boulder’s canopy. The city’s Tree-Imagine campaign launched this spring is pushing city residents to collectively plant 25,000 new trees by 2025.
The county this summer introduced a swarm of a non-stinging, parasitic member of the wasp family on the Mayhoffer open space property in Superior, and also has enlisted 159 participants in its adopt-a-tree program for ashes slated for removal from public places. Program participants can choose to commit to pay for treatment to keep the trees alive.
“A lot of these ash trees are old and they’ve been with the community a long time,” Kinsley said. “Trying to protect them in every way is a valiant effort.”
By Bruce Scruton
MIDDLE SMITHFIELD, Pa. — Three species of a small wasp that can attack the eggs of the emerald ash borer were released by National Park Service biologists within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area this past weekend.
The borer, an invasive beetle from Asia, is capable of killing a full-grown ash tree within a couple of years and has been found in several locations in Sussex County in the past two years.
The release was in the Mosier’s Knob area, just below the Walpack Bend of the Delaware River and across the river from Worthington State Forest where the New Jersey Department of Agriculture recently released its own biological agents to stem the invasion of the pest.
Kara Deutsch, chief of resource management for the park, said the emerald ash borer has been found on both sides of the river. The choice of Mosier’s Knob for the release came at the recommendation of regional NPS experts.
The wasps, known in scientific circles as “parasitoids,” were supplied by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and came from the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) EAB Parasitoid Rearing Facility in Brighton, Mich.
There were three species of wasps released — one release was of adults and the others were pupae of separate species.
The three are themselves invasives, native to the Asian areas where the emerald ash borer are native. The borer was imported to this area first identified in the area around Detroit and believed to have arrived in 2002 inside of wooden packing material.
In less than two decades since, the borer, a type of beetle, has been found in the U.S. from the Atlantic Coast (except Forida) as far west as Colorado and has spread throughout the eastern two-thirds of Canada.
The wasp parasites — the adults are about the size of a mosquito and don’t sting — get the borer in both egg and larval states.
The adult Oobius agrili female will lay her own egg inside the egg of an ash borer and there are two life cycles of the wasp for one life cycle of the borer. In experiments and observation, more than half an emerald ash borer’s eggs became victims of the wasp.
The other two wasps attack the larval stage of the borer and it is that stage that causes the damage to ash trees.
By Michael MacDonald
HALIFAX — An invasive insect from Asia is expected to kill almost every ash tree in Canada, but Donnie McPhee has a plan to preserve the species.
Co-ordinator for the National Tree Seed Centre in Fredericton, McPhee is asking Canadians to help him find mature stands where seeds can be gathered and later stored for future generations in the centre’s deep-freeze vaults.
“We’re looking to protect the genetic diversity of the species,” McPhee said in an interview. “We’re looking for natural stands of trees that are in seed …. We want Canadians to be our eyes — to let us know they’re out there.”
And the time is right to start the search because the white ash and black ash — two of the most common species — are expected to produce a bumper crop of seeds this fall. The centre’s website provides details on what to look for, but seed collecting should be left to experts.
“We’ve already had people showing up with big bags of ash seed … but it’s too early in the season,” McPhee said.
Larvae of the emerald ash borer, a small beetle with an iridescent green hue, have already killed millions of trees in Canada and the United States, and the pest’s population is still growing.
The larvae make tunnels underneath the tree’s bark, cutting off nutrient flow to the canopy, which eventually kills the tree.
“The reports I’ve seen suggest that within 50 years, there might not be any ash trees anywhere in the country,” McPhee said.
McPhee’s long-term plan is to have the centre retrieve the collected ash seeds from cold storage in about 40 or 50 years, when the ash borer population has dwindled and safe planting can begin.
“The population of the insect will drop way down because the food supply isn’t there,” he said. “At that time, we want to go in and put the genetic diversity of the population back to where it came from.”
Jeff Mulhollem, Pennsylvania State University
Genes in green ash trees that may confer some resistance to attacks by the emerald ash borer express themselves only once the tree detects the invasive beetle’s feeding, according to Penn State researchers.
Knowing this, geneticists may be able to selectively breed trees to strengthen them and perhaps move the resistance response earlier to ward off the beetles’ onslaught, explained John Carlson, professor of molecular genetics.
Green ash, an ecologically and economically valuable tree species native to eastern and central North America, is under severe threat from the rapid invasion of emerald ash borer, a wood-boring beetle native to Asia. Penn State scientists and others are trying to save the species.
Prior observations in a green ash provenance trial—an experiment to see how plants adapt—planted at Penn State in 1978 by Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of The Arboretum at Penn State, and colleagues in the U.S. Forest Service, show that a very small percentage of ash trees survive emerald ash borer infestations, seemingly because their tissues do not nourish and perhaps even sicken the beetles.
“Emerald ash borer probably entered the provenance trial unnoticed around 2008 and trees started showing symptoms of attack by 2012,” Carlson said. “All but eight or nine of the approximately 1,800 trees that Kim planted have subsequently been killed by the beetles.”
Ash trees succumb after adult beetles lay eggs on their bark. When the eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the bark and feed on the transportation tissues of the tree. This disrupts the movement of nutrients and water within the tree, girdling it and causing death.
“To better understand the response of green ash trees to emerald ash borer, we compared gene expression data for resistant versus susceptible green ash genotypes exposed to attack by the beetles,” said Carlson, director of Penn State’s Schatz Center for Tree Molecular Genetics. “By comparing RNA-sequence data from stems attacked by emerald ash borer to multiple tree tissues under other stresses, we could identify differences in the gene expression profiles specific to emerald ash borer resistance.”
The emerald ash borer is known by entomologists by its acronym: EAB. If you’re an insect aficionado or a tree lover, you likely already know this name. For the rest of you, it’s a name you will know soon enough. It is the cause of arguably the most catastrophic current tree death events in the history of North America.
By Neil Shaw
JOHANNESBURG — One of the world’s largest urban forests is under threat from a tiny beetle.
The polyphagous shot hole borer is thought to have made its way to Johannesburg from Southeast Asia on packing crates or through the trade in plant materials.
Trudy Paap, a forest pathologist at the University of Pretoria, discovered the beetle in the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens last year. She published her discovery in the journal Australasian Plant Pathology, calling it part of “the surge in the global spread of invasive forest pests” because of globalization.
The beetle has since moved to Johannesburg, 200 miles away, and spread across its urban forest, which according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology initiative Treepedia has the world’s sixth-largest green canopy cover.
Today, many of Johannesburg’s estimated 6 to 10 million trees are dying, a crisis obscured only by the current winter season. Some of the infected trees have the telltale holes the 2-millimeter-long beetle makes in their bark.
“This beetle doesn’t actually eat the trees,” Paap said. Instead it carries a fungus that blocks the vessels that transport water and nutrients, “which ultimately leads to die-back and death of the tree.”
Though scientists don’t know just how many trees have died from the beetles’ invasion, the outlook for Johannesburg is grim: “The city is going to lose a lot of trees.”
The trees do not have an evolved resistance to the polyphagous shothole borer, unlike in Asia where the beetles naturally occur.
It is the older, more established trees that are at risk, said arborist Neil Hill. “So that’s going to leave a gap in the landscape. And if we don’t start to plant straight way with new trees that gap is going to become more and more of a concern as far as urban blight, pollution, aesthetic beauty.”
New research suggests the removal of timber harvest residue during harvesting may be a boon for wild bees, an important step toward better understanding the planet’s top group of pollinators.
The findings are important because bees are the driving force behind $100 billion in global economic impact each year, with insect pollinators enhancing the reproduction of 90 percent of the Earth’s flowering plants, including many food crops.
Insect pollinators are also ecologically critical as promoters of biodiversity. Bees are the standard bearer because they’re usually present in the greatest numbers and because they’re the only pollinator group that feeds exclusively on nectar and pollen their entire life.
Researchers at Oregon State University spent two years studying 28 contiguous 1-acre clearcut sites. They assessed whether the abundance and diversity of wild bees was affected by the removal of timber harvest residue, also known as slash, and the soil compaction that goes along with it.
“Bees are important for biodiversity in managed forest landscapes but we just don’t have a very good handle on them in these areas,” said lead scientist Jim Rivers of the OSU College of Forestry.
The study plots occurred within a managed conifer forest in western Oregon. Each plot received one of five unique treatments, ranging from removing only the boles – tree trunks that are used to make lumber – without compacting the soil at all (no heavy equipment used on the plot) to removing all of the logging slash and compacting the entire plot.
The findings were surprising, Rivers said.
“The combination of the most intense timber residue removal and soil compaction treatment made for the greatest number and diversity of bees,” he said.