Friday, June 29, 2007

The Evolving Threat to Our Forests

It is estimated that the mountain pine beetle has destroyed 40% of British Columbia's lodgepole pine since 1993. University researchers have now found evidence that the beetle is adapting to spruce as well.

Researchers at the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George say the pine beetle, which has destroyed about 40 per cent of the province's lodgepole pine since 1993, is now killing spruce trees as well.

"There were rumours before that pine beetles were not only killing spruce but successfully reproducing in spruce, and we have now observed that in Prince George and we have been trying to document what's going on," Staffan Lindgren, a professor of ecosystem science at UNBC, said yesterday.

Lodgepole pine is the most common timber in forest rich BC, covering 14 million hectares of land. Spruce is right behind and covers 13 million hectares. With that in mind, the threat posed by the mountain pine beetle is arguably the most visible and significant consequence of global warming yet seen on the North American continent.

In short, welcome to global warming induced evolution.

Historically, pine beetle populations are kept in check by winter temperatures that drop to -40°C for several days. But since 1993, warmer winters have meant that the beetle has been left untouched by prolonged cold periods and their numbers are skyrocketing accordingly. With greater numbers of beetles comes greater opportunity to take advantage of new evolutionary niches.

One might expect genetic variability within the pine beetle to allow rare individuals to thrive on spruce rather than pine, but they would have been few and far between and would be unlikely to form new breeding populations even if they survived the winter freeze. That changes when the natural weather cycle no longer keeps their numbers in check. What was once an insignificant genetic mutation now threatens our forests with the seeds of a whole new catastrophe.

From the disappearance of the bees that pollinate our crops, to the decimation of our forests, nature is issuing ever more severe warnings that the course our society is on is not in tune with our long term survival. It's time to stop pretending we're both deaf to the message and dumb towards action and begin changing the way we interact with the planet - for our own sake.


David Dane said...

Gee wouldn't it be nice if DDT wasn't outlawed. I bet that would fix these little pine beatles, also known as Japanese beatles.
It doesn't have to be applied heavily. Just us enough DDT to get the job done. What a shame.

Odiyya said...

Why DDT? Why not some other measure that isn't bio-accumalative and destructive to bird life?

Or is that more for the sake of jumping on the republican's latest misguided anti environment campaign?

Anonymous said...

As you know, Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol way back in 1998, but the Senate has not taken any action on ratifying it. Everyone needs to contact their senators and ask them why, and urge them to start work on it now.

We can't wait for George Bush to do it. It's getting hot NOW!

kitimat said...

David Dane

The mountain pine beetle outbreak in BC ARE NOT Japanese beetles. They have been present in BC forests for millenia. It is only in the past decade or so that their numbers have exploded. This is due to the fact that winter temperatures have not been cold enough to kill them off. No chemical could subdue the trillions of beetles in British Columbia.
And using DDT would be like trying to cure a headache with a hammer.

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E. R. Dunhill said...

Thank you for posting on this. It's central to the climate policy debate that people understand that global warming doesn't just mean turing up the air conditioning. Climate, ecology, and economy are deeply connected.

david dane,
While forest management sometimes relies on pesticides, why do you advocate a 1940s technology like DDT? Is there any research that suggests that it would be effective against the pine beetle epidemic? (I pose both of these questions in earnest, not as rhetorical devices)

Lynn@ZelleBlog said...

Well said, I think we have to realize that even small changes in the balance of nature can produce disastrous results.

lady macleod said...

great post. terrifying.

David Dane said...

Global warming was caused by us? The little people who drive cars, and trucks? Hmmmm, how many tons of CO2 does a volcano blow out? How much CO2 excapes from water in the oceans? Don't trees absorb CO2? The global warming crisis oh lets get scared. Why can't we build some nuclear reactors? Answer: NO one wants them in their back yard. But they would do a lot to eliminate coal. Let's do this. Let's stop driving our cars and ride bycycles to work. That will bring the temperature down. Come on did any of you pass a course in science?

Odiyya said...

DD, you've gone from a strange assertion on DDT to a comment that is patently irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Is your understanding of science equally coherent?

harley said...