Can native forest fungi combat the West's bark beetle epidemic?
Krista Langlois | Feb. 25, 2015 | Web Exclusive
From the air, they look like brittle, dead landscapes: millions of acres of scratchy brown pipe cleaners and toothpick logs. Since the 1990s, naturally-occurring bark beetles have multiplied under the effects of drought, climate change and fire-repressed forests, leading to outbreaks that have ravaged forests and left land managers scrambling to deal with a glut of dead trees. But 2015 may prove a turning point.
The first hopeful news comes from the lab of Richard Hofstetter, a forest entomologist at Northern Arizona University. Working with a private company called Montana BioAgriculture, Hofstetter has identified a deadly strain of the Beauveria bassiana fungus that kills 80 to 90 percent of pine beetles, one of the most destructive bark beetle species of recent years. The fungus is naturally present in the bark of some infected trees; Hofstetter and Montana BioAgriculture’s Cliff Bradley simply collect it, propagate it and dissolve the spores into a liquid that forest managers can spray on trees to help control local outbreaks.