Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Hope for Pine Beetle Defense

Pine Bark Beetle Damage
Pine Bark Beetle tracks on the inner bark
University of British Columbia researchers have discovered some of the genetic secrets that enable pine and spruce trees to fight off pests and disease, uncovering critical new information about forests' natural defense systems.

Assoc. Prof. Joerg Bohlmann says this genetic analysis will allow forest stewardship programs to reinforce a forest's inherent strength, breeding trees that could in time repel insects such as British Columbia's notorious mountain pine beetles.

Bohlmann and his research associate Christopher Keeling explored the genetic makeup of oleoresin within spruce, discovering a sophisticated ability to produce complex blends of chemicals that continuously evolve to protect the tree from changing conditions and challenges.

"Conifers are some of the oldest and longest living plants on the planet," says Bohlmann. "We've opened the book to understanding how they can survive in one location for thousands of years despite attacks from generations of insects and diseases."

Figuring out how these naturally occurring defenses work has important implications for the long-term sustainability and health of our forests. Insect pests and pathogens cause annual losses of billions of dollars to conifer-based forest economies in North America and Europe. In B.C., Canada, the mountain pine beetle epidemic has killed about 40 per cent of the pine forests since its first appearance in the mid 1990s.

This is the largest recorded bark beetle outbreak in Canada, leaving B.C. with 13 million hectares of grey and red dead pine - a volume of dead timber equivalent to 530 million telephone poles.

from a news release of the University of British Columbia, "UBC discovery unlocks tree genetics, gives new hope for pine beetle defense", Jan 14, 2008
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