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Emerald Ash Borer in Central Virginia

Emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis
Emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). © 2017, Matt Bertone. Used with permission.

Entomologist Dr. Art Evans and VPM radio producer Steve Clark discuss some of the latest developments with emerald ash borer in central Virginia.

Transcript:

Steve Clark:  I'm Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You.  Years ago we looked into the emerald ash borer and the damage that it was doing in Virginia.

Art Evans:  Right.

Clark:  We haven't talked about that much since then.

Evans:  No, we haven't.

Clark:  I've been curious.

Evans:  Well, unfortunately there's been a development. 

Clark:  Oh.

Evans:  They’ve moved into central Virginia now.  There are certainly around the Richmond area, and we are going to lose ash trees.  There are insecticides out there that can be injected into candidate trees, that is trees that are in a certain stage of health or a certain species.  It's possible they can be saved, and people that are interested in finding out more about that should check out our website for that link. Recently I was driving through Connecticut, and I saw patches of forest where there were just dead trees poking up out of the canopy, and of course these were all ash trees, and it was very sad.  In my neighborhood I haven't seen any ash trees that are struggling, nor have I seen any indication that they might be infested with the beetle.

Clark:  It doesn't seem like a very good strategy to kill your host.

Evans:  In their native land, I mean they're native to China, Japan, the Korean Peninsula and eastern Russia, they aren't a serious pest of ash.  But here in North America, they're unfettered by whatever natural checks and balances they experience there, and they've just taken off, and they are a serious threat to all species of ash across North America.  One of the things that is of interest to me in all of this is how's that going to affect the habitats where ash grows.  For example, when the ash trees die, yes, that dead tree creates habitats for other organisms, but it also opens up the forest floor to sunlight and you'll have additional invasive species of plants that now can take root and take over and invade further into the forests.  And with the absence of ash trees and the increased amount of other plants that aren't indigenous to this area, that changes the soil chemistry.  And when it rains, that will wash into the streams and the creeks, and that will change the water chemistry, and of course that all has a great impact on the plants and animals that will persist in those areas.  So we will see a change over time.  Now we're not talking about complete devastation of all trees.  We're talking about one species of tree, so it's sort of akin to the loss of the American chestnut this continent experienced in the last century where an entire species of a significant tree was wiped out.  But we began to see other trees take its place and other organisms began to adapt and use other trees, or if they couldn't adapt, they disappeared.  So it'll be interesting to study ash trees and the insects that specialize on ash trees.  And one of them that comes to mind immediately is the eastern Hercules beetle.  The males are known to scrape the bark off of ash to cause a sapping wound, and they use that as a way of attracting potential mates.  Will they adjust to another species?  It's hard to say. 

Clark:  And traps haven't done the job?

Evans:  Well, traps are only there, those purple prism traps, they're only there to monitor the presence of the beetles.  They're not there as a control measure.

Clark:  Oh, I gotcha.

Evans:  Don't move firewood.  That's how emerald ash borers and a lot of other wood boring insects get spread around.

Clark:  Dr. Art Evans is a research associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.  You’ll find photos, audio, and links to the museum and Art’s Facebook page at vpm.org/bugs.


Dr. Arthur V. Evans teams up with VPM Radio producer Steve Clark for a weekly feature, “What’s Bugging You?,” which airs during NPR’s Morning Edition. The program takes its name from another of Evans’ books “What’s Bugging You – A Fond Look at the Animals We Love to Hate.”

Tune in each Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. or at 5:44 p.m. on VPM News