Friday, January 15, 2010

Meet the beetles

Effects of Mountain Pine Beetle infestation.

This article from The Atlantic describes the ongoing effort to protect western US forests from beetles. Richard Hofstetter, a researcher in Northern Arizona University's School of Forestry, uses the beetle's own recorded calls to disrupt their destructive behavior. He enlisted help from a composer named David Dunn, who specializes in nature and animal sounds, to record and recreate the beetle calls, which he then blasts at his lab subjects.  It's unclear if just driving the beetles crazy will take care of the problem (in one instance, the sound-harangued beetle eats its mate, in another, it bores through a plexi-glass panel--unsettling bordering on Greek tragedy, no?) But the idea is that a wall of sound could be created to keep beetles out of the unaffected parts of the forest.  There's no mention of the possible affects it would have on other species, but I don't really expect that in a popular journal--leave the nitty-gritty to the long, slow, boring process of scientific research.

Part of the beetle problem in the West is mild winters--cold weather has been the best beetle deterrent.  The current strategies for controlling the problem focus on selective thinning and harvesting, pheromones, and pesticides. The major culprit of destruction is the Mountain Pine Beetle, who carries a blue fungus along with it's infestation that helps destroy the tree, and leaves behind a blue stain on the wood that is now being used to make craft items and marketed as "denim pine."

The Asian Longhorn Beetle, although quite elegant, destroys healthy trees too.

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