Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The End of the Ash Tree?

Have you ever heard of the word 'invasive species?'  What about the emerald ash borer?  I ask students and summer campers these questions when telling them why we can't let the tropical rainforest butterflies out of the South Pacific Island biome at work (they, like the emerald ash borer, could become invasive if allowed outdoors).  I'm often surprised (and saddened) by how many kids have heard of this beetle and can tell me more about it.  

The emerald ash borer (abbreviated EAB) is an invasive beetle from Asia that was most likely accidentally introduced to the United States recently (it was discovered in Ohio in 2003).  The larvae of this beetle eats the inner bark of ash trees, eventually killing them.  EAB can cause the trees to grow stump sprouts, like this one we saw tonight.  Infected trees grow deformed and distorted.  Large sections of the tree dies, but other parts exhibit vigorous growth with new shoots jutting out from the beetle's entrance holes (these sprouts are sometimes called 'witches brooms').  The trees appear off balance, caught between new life and death.  

The ash trees at our apartment complex are being cut down and replaced with maple trees.  My parents have also cut down the ash trees that were in their yard.  Now the landscape at both my childhood and current home are open and unfamiliar.  I hope that efforts taken by scientists to understand and control EAB are successful before this invasive has spread much further.  It seems strange to think that a tree that is so common now may no longer exist in the near future.

If you'd like to learn more about the emerald ash borer, check out this site.  It's a hub of information about EAB and its spread.  If you're enjoying a bonfire this summer, be sure to buy wood where you intend to burn it!  Don't move firewood - it can help spread invasive insects that may be burrowed into the wood!

If you'd like something a little more hopeful - read about the chestnut tree, chestnut blight and the progress scientists have made in helping this beautiful American tree species recover!  Hopefully ash trees will have a similar story to tell someday soon!