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The Breakdown

Environmental News Breakdown: Invasive Beetles Continue to Decimate American Forests

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Upsetting the balance of nature can wreak havoc that’s hard to contain.

The News
A global economy means we’re trading more than manufactured goods — it means the transference of invasive plants and creatures from their home ecosystem to nonnative ones. The emerald ash borer, an invasive Asian beetle that has been present in North America for the past 12 years, and the Asian longhorned beetle, which traveled to New York from China in 1996, are two of the most destructive invasive species now living in North America. Together, they have destroyed hundreds of thousands of American hardwoods including ashes, maples, elms, birches, and many others. Scientists at Michigan State University had hoped that this past winter’s extremely low temperatures would diminish the ash borer’s population, but no drop in the pest’s numbers has been witnessed.

What It Means
Invasive species are a major threat to the environment because they disrupt the balance of ecosystems, sometimes creating a cascade of negative consequences. The National Wildlife Federation estimates that 42 percent of threatened and endangered species are at risk primarily because of invasive species. As the ash tree disappears so too will the 43 native insect species that rely on them. These insects are a crucial link in the food chain because they feed birds, bats, and predator bugs such as spiders, ladybugs, and praying mantises. If we are not able to slow and ultimately stop the destruction of the hardwood trees in the U.S., our ecosystem will change dramatically.

What You Can Do

  • Familiarize yourself and spread the word. Learn to identify the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle, and the symptoms of their presence. Take note of any potentially affected trees in your neighborhood. Tell your friends, family, and coworkers about the beetles. If you see signs of an emerald ash borer or Asian longhorned beetle infestation, inform the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
  • Do not move firewood. Many invasive species, the emerald ash borer among them, lay their eggs under the bark of various types of trees. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae will continue to grow by consuming the soft tissue and fungus found under the bark until they mature and travel to a new location to lay their eggs. Moving firewood that has emerald ash borer larvae under the surface is one of the preventable ways the species spreads across the continent. Instead of bringing firewood from home with you when you travel, purchase your firewood from a store in close proximity to where you will be staying, and leave any remaining wood behind for the next vacationers to use.
  • Volunteer at local parks to help remove invasive species. Most state and county parks are eager for volunteer help. Volunteering, in addition to being a rewarding way to protect your local ecosystem, is a great way to bond with a child or friend. Contact the volunteer coordinator at a local park or arboretum and see what invasive species they’re dealing with and join the fight.
  • Treat your tree. There are a number of effective systemic insecticides used to prevent and reduce emerald ash borer infestations. Some are available for homeowner use, while others must be administered by a licensed pesticide applicator. Soil drenching is one of the methods available for use by homeowners, and studies have shown that applying the insecticide at the base of the trunk is highly a highly successful method of treatment. A warning though: insecticide use is a sensitive subject. While the benefits of using insecticides are many, so too are the drawbacks. The best insecticides are the ones that affect only the intended target. Do not use spray-cover insecticides while other more targeted options are available. If you decide to treat your tree with insecticides, do so with extreme caution and be sure to follow all the instructions on the label.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
National Wildlife Federation
The Nature Conservancy
The New York Times

Are you aware of any invasive species in your area? Tell us in the comments below, and what you can do to stop them!

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About the Author
Morgan West
Morgan West
Morgan West works for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. more
  • Sue C. 6 years ago
    Thank you for the post. My mom's maple tree in front of the house was a victim of the Asian Longhorn beetle. They tried to save the tree. However, the beetles had totally bored through the trunk of the tree which destroyed the at least 50 year old tree. These beetles seem attracted to certain types of trees. It's amazing how a healthy tree can be destroyed so quickly.
  • Pamela M. 6 years ago
    Not aware of any invasive species, reports are only about west nile virus.