Appetite for Destruction

Posted on March 29, 2008  Comments (1)

photo of Mountain Pine Beetle

Appetite for Destruction (link broken, so I removed it) by Eric R. Olson:

“Once the beetles are at the level they’re at in British Columbia, there’s nothing you can do – it’s like a rapidly spreading fire,” says Barbara Bentz, research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. If the beetle continues to devour trees at the current rate, 80 percent of British Columbia’s mature pines will be killed off by 2013, according to Natural Resources Canada, an arm of the Canadian government.

Global climate change, which is pushing temperatures higher, has altered the beetle’s natural life cycle. Now the insect threatens one of the world’s largest forest systems: Canada’s boreal forest, a 600-mile-wide band of pine woodlands that stretches from the Yukon in Alaska all the way to Newfoundland on the East Coast.

The source of all this destruction is an insect not much bigger than a grain of rice. A native of North America, the pine beetle does its damage by burrowing beneath the bark and feeding on the living tissue of the tree called the phloem. This tissue is composed of long tubes that transport nutrients from root to limb, and once it is destroyed, the tree can no longer survive.

In the past, cold snaps — quick drops in temperature in the spring and fall — have kept beetle populations in check. Although the insects can survive temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, it takes time for their bodies to accumulate enough glycol, the same ingredient found in antifreeze, to survive such frigid temperatures.

Photo: Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus Ponderosae) under a scanning electron microscope. [Credit: Leslie Manning/Canadian Forest Service]

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One Response to “Appetite for Destruction”

  1. Al Haneson
    March 30th, 2008 @ 11:00 pm

    In Michigan, we are being devastated by the Ash Borer Beetle that kills ash trees. It has spread to Indiana and Illinois as well as Ohio.
    It may be up your way soon too. Nasty little buggers for sure!

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