Great post, thanks.
We spend ~3 weeks/year in British Columbia, and I’ve sat in a ski lodge there with lumbermen, people to whom it would have been unwise to claim non-existence of global warming. Big guys who know how to use axes should not be messed with. B.C. takes this very seriously, and of course, they are chewing into ALberta, too.
I certainly think the beetles are among the most obvious and unwanted early indicators of climate, as they show the Northward incursion of something with no benefits.
I’ll look forward to the next installment
[Response: Thanks much John. And excellent advice regarding big guys with axes.–Jim]
Although there has been little study done on this as far as I can see our midwesteren paper birch (Betula papyrifera) seems to be experiencing a similar fate. The once common and towering trees that were commonly used for making canoes are withering away.
Beetle attacks on drought- and heat-stressed trees are blamed for a massive die-off of pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) in northern New Mexico in the early 2000s. See e.g. Breshears et al. 2005.
[Response: Good reference. I probably should have stated that forest insect irruptions have a long and reasonably well documented history going back into the 1800s. Major irruptions themselves are not new, although the intensity and geographic scale now being seen might well be.–Jim]
Jim — minor typo in “variability in logging pactices”.
[Response: Thanks a lot David.–Jim]
Comment by David B. Benson — 24 Oct 2010 @ 5:36 PM
I would like to get some information concerning the siege of a number of destructive beetles, including the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorn beetle, in eastern forests and if these invasions are climate related. I know these beetles are invasive species, but there are a number of other pathogens that are taking severe tolls in the east.
[Response: There will always be a climatic component when insects and trees are involved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s well understood, nor that it’s the dominant force in a given irruption. The ash borer’s rapid spread right now is largely due to it’s invasiveness, i.e. lack of a coevolved defenses by N. American Fraxinus spp. There’s a lot of info available on it, given how serious it is. I’m not up on the longhorn.–Jim]
Three years ago (Early Oct 2007), I went out to Denver to visit family. While I was there, we took a trip up to Rocky Mountains National Park. Weather prevented us from getting over to the west-side, so we spent our time there exploring the east side.
I kept my eyes open for signs of bark-beetle infestations — saw mostly healthy-looking lodgepoles; noted only a couple of small “dead-patches” in a sea of healthy-looking green lodgepole pines. Mind you, I was *looking hard* for beetle-killed trees, and I didn’t see any obvious evidence of major bark-beetle infestations then.
Fast-forward three years, and the changes were breathtaking. Large swaths of dead/dying lodgepole pines were visible on the east side, especially on the south-facing slopes. The changes I noted in just three short years were, to put it mildly, stunning.
[Response: Yes, exactly. It just so happens that I am just southeast of the park right now, between it and Boulder, comparing this area to mountains in SE Wyoming where I spent the summer. What you describe for 3 years ago in RMNP pretty much describes the situation here now, and what you describe now in RMNP’s east side is pretty much the standard all across the west side of the Divide, and all the high country of SE Wyoming (Snowy, Sierra Madre, and Laramie ranges). Furthermore the ponderosas are currently in much worse condition as you go north along the front range from Denver to Laramie, with obvious potential for southward spread all along it, which would be devastating.–Jim]
Thanks Jim, nicely done. I look forward to the next post(s).
For those who don’t have access the cited chapter by Raffa, the following article by Raffa and others provides a few more tidbits about the natural history of bark beetles (though they inexplicably use “eruption” rather than “irruption”).
Raffa, K.F., et al., Cross-scale drivers of natural disturbances prone to anthropogenic amplification: the dynamics of bark beetle eruptions. BioScience, 2008. 58(6): p. 501-517.
I can recall something similar I witnessed during the few years (early 80’s) that I spent in Los Alamos. The nearby Jemez mountains contained a lot of immature aspen trees. Every summer by about midsummer there would be a huge epidemic of tentworm catterpillers, and within a few weeks every aspen leaf was consumed. At the time my presumption was that the town (which borders on and continues into the forest) probably formed an environment for the winter survival of the worms (which I remember from my boyhood in New Jersey, but have never seen in any other location out west).
[Response: Thanks Thomas. Forest insect outbreaks are varied and frequent. As for aspen, there’s concern right now with some serious things going on with aspen in W. CO over the last few years, which may have a climatic component.–Jim]
Nice post – very informative, and I look forward to the next instalment.
One small point – in reference to coniferous “red foliage” you say:
“Red foliage however, is one thing you’re not supposed to see a lot of in western North America, any time of year.
In many places in the west -particularly through the central and northern Rocky Mountains and British Columbia- there is now a lot of red foliage, but unfortunately, it’s not just in autumn, and is occurring on non-deciduous species. ”
You don’t specifically mention that, for coniferous (non-deciduous) trees, *red* means *dead* – which may need to be pointed out for some people in tropic climes…
[Response: Thank you and good point–yes, red means dead (and also, the red typically shows in the year after the tree was killed).–Jim]
Although a nice post overall, I have to disagree with the section detailing pheromones.
Here in SW Montana at least, one of the preferred for curbing irruptions at a stand level is the application of pheromone packets to individual trees. This has been quite effective in areas usually visited by humans. It is expensive, but has (as far as my observations go) near 100% effectiveness in preventing infestations. One of my friends is the city forester of Bozeman, MT and he confirms this. The packets work (but they are expensive), so it may be related to the level of pheromones associated with an individual tree. Too much and it tells the MPB to go elsewhere.
[Response: Not sure what you disagree with–I was just describing what happens during an attack. Anti-aggregation pheromone applications are fine for protecting small groups of trees of individual landowners. They’re no solution at the vast scales we’re discussing here–Jim]
One “joke” we have around here is that there is a new species of pine around here, the “red pine”. If you drive between Deer Lodge and Helena over McDonald Pass the sight is appalling.
Comment by Rattus Norvegicus — 24 Oct 2010 @ 11:18 PM
Below are some questions that you could addressed in your next post. I personally find information more persuasive (and less like propaganda), when obvious questions like these are address.
Climate change has occurred many times in the past. From the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid 1800s until the late 1930s, the climate probably warmed about as much as it did in the late 1900’s. Was this warming experienced by Western forests? Did it cause massive outbreaks of insect borne disease? Are there any other periods of climate change that have been associated with outbreaks of insect borne disease?
The linked paper suggested that insect borne disease could cross the country through forests in southern Canada, an area which may be made susceptible by warming. It is my understanding that the non-forested Great Plains extend fairly far north into Canada. How far north does one need to go to make a forested route to the East Coast and how much how much warming is needed at that location to make this possible? Don’t Western insects already have access to Eastern forests by being transported across the country in wood products by humans?
Some massive outbreaks of destructive insects are controlled because the population of their predators increases (due to an abundant supply of food). Does this happen with these insects?
[Response: Good questions. It’s hard to go back much before the late 1800s, although there are some studies that have attempted to, using dendro techniques. There are certainly many documented cases of major insect outbreaks before AGW became an issue. So it’s an important question as to how unique the current situation is, and what’s fundamentally driving it. That’s the topic for a future article(s). As for spread of the MPB, if it adds jack pine (closest extant relative to lodgepole) to it’s list of suitable hosts, that could potentially allow it to move from NW Alberta all the way across Canada. As for the last question, typically no–these large outbreaks seem to be limited more often by food supply than predator increases–Jim]
Jim, thanx for this, very much appreciated. I live in B.C. and have property in the pine area. In our little valley we have a good mix of lodge pole, Bull (pondrosa), fir, aspen and birch. Unfortunately now, for the last 2 years we have been noticing that the firs are now being attacked by the spruce bud worm. About the only good thing that I can see from this latest outbreak is that our property seems to have a lot more birds then recently. As this is an issue that I have been following closely, I am very appreciative of your time on it.
One last thing, I remeber reading in the Canadian Geographic some years back that at one time it was thought that the Rockies would be a barrier to the beetles entering Alberta. If I remember right, the author stated that when the beetle did eventually make the ascension over the Rockies, their numbers were so vast that you could see the “cloud” from satellites.
I cannot find that specific issue anymore, so i am wondering if this tidbit has ever been substantiated?
[Response: Thanks a lot Leo. Yes, almost certainly insectivorous bird increases. Don’t know about that specific event, but there are some phenomenal accounts of the number of beetles during outbreaks. I was just reading about one in the White River area of NW Colorado in 1949 that produced “a layer of beetles 6 in deep and 6 ft wide for over a mile”. And these beetles are pretty small. As for the crossing over the rockies, yes the MPB has done so and is in Alberta. There is concern that it might begin to infect jack pine and spread therefore, all the way across Canada and into the Great Lakes and NE USA.–Jim]
Jim, I completely agree with you here. Just think you should have mentioned it. No real disagreement. Kind of an interesting and counter intuitive effect, often found in ecology…
[Response: Thanks. Wasn’t able to work in even 1/5 of what I’d have like to have said, so I’m glad you mentioned it. Also, is that mostly lodgepole you’re seeing, do you know?–Jim]
Comment by Rattus Norvegicus — 24 Oct 2010 @ 11:43 PM
John Mashey’s link says: “Recovering the greatest value from dead timber before it burns or decays, while respecting other forest values”
I was wondering about that and I’m glad they are working on it.
Will the lumbermens’ reaction on the GW issue result in their taking any action on GW? We need every ally we can get.
Is there a different kind of tree that will grow there that the beetles don’t eat?
Comment by Edward Greisch — 25 Oct 2010 @ 12:31 AM
Most interesting. We too have the problem here in Sweden, but what i have seen for myself during the past 5 years, since moving close by a spruce and pine forest is the following.
Every late spring, May time, when we get the first really warm day, we get swarms of beetles hatching out in the grass parts by the houses, this provides the birds with ample food for their young, and within a couple of days they are gone, that is what I thought. Now autumn has arrived, and blue jays and other larger birds are investigating these lawns AND finding larva. the birds can dig up several sq meters at one go. The locals tell me that its the larva that lies over the winter to become the new beetles next spring. A very interesting phenomenon
Comment by George Robinson — 25 Oct 2010 @ 3:58 AM
A colleague of mine was at a conference earlier this year chatting to someone who wanted to study MPB 15 years ago but couldn’t get funded as their threat was thought to be limited. An illustration, perhaps, of quite how rapid an ecological change this has been.
One wonders what the effect would be if the same thing happened to a pathogen of a food crop…
When reading your article it occurred to me that pheromone traps would be a way to go but that the vast areas and numbers would be a problem. I saw the results of the infestations when in BC last march, no way that new outbreaks could be contained by a cordon sanitaire? My personal experience of Asian longhorns occurred a year ago when investigating a sickly old maple in my back yard and finding these large white larvae in the tree. I photo’d them and emailed the pic to the university tree guy, within the hour I was descended upon by him, township and state people! Fortunately it wasn’t the Asian longhorn but the response impressed me with how seriously they took it.
Thanks, Jim, interesting details, but I wish you had been more direct about the effects of industrial logging. In 1994 or thereabouts, the Oregon Department of Forestry assembled a collection of over 200 scientific papers called “Cumulative Effects of Forest Practices in Oregon”. The conclusions and studies were so disruptive that it was suppressed almost as soon as it appeared, and I was only able to find one of several remaining copies via interlibrary lending- as far as I could tell, only a couple of libraries in Oregon still have copies. I alerted my friend Tim Hermach of Native Forest Council, who printed out a few dozen copies. I don’t have my copy handy, but here are a few conclusions (from memory):
1. Industrial logging sends Oregon forest ecosystems into new trajectories, making return to prior species relationships very long term, if ever. This has implications for insect predator habitat and natural selection of trees, among other things.
2. Microclimates are severely affected: streams below clearcuts can contain water that is 6 degrees warmer than upstream. Air temperature around clearcuts can be 10 degrees warmer or more.
3. Clearcuts alter water’s ability to remain in the local forest atmosphere, due to reduced friction and transpiration. I saw temperature records of the Scott River, a tributary of the Klamath in northern California, showing that the logging caused change from a wet conifer area to deciduous scrub resulted in a much hotter local climate.
Along with global warming and fire suppression, our penchant to clearcut Western forests is a huge contributor to MPB outbreaks, including in British Columbia. I urge you and readers to Google Earth the entire province sometime- dense, parched, and monotonic stands are perfect habitat for the beetles.
Let’s call this rapacious and ignorant forest liquidation, not land use changes or logging practices. The purposes are to produce soft toilet paper and two by fours and chip board for houses. You touch on logging’s effects, but for this topic the intersection of logging practices and ecosystem health is rather stark. Forest biologists need to speak up more directly, because the public needs to be in on this conversation.
[Response: This is not an article about–and certainly not an indictment on–logging practices Mike. This is an attempt to get folks on the same page so that we can understand the effects of climate change on bark beetle outbreaks. Nothing more.–Jim]
Your colleague Chad Hanson, founder of the John Muir Project, is a great resource here. I hope he chips in on this thread.
Which birds eat the beetles? Migratory or local?
What else do they eat and where, in addition to beetle outbreaks?
Which trees do those birds prefer to nest in?
What forest patterns suit them (unbroken, or patchwork with edges)?
Were those trees protected in the past when areas were logged, or targeted for removal? Are those trees/forest patterns favored for nests when timber is salvaged now?
A very good article but some clarfication is in order. First of all a bark beetle attack does nothing to the plant water status; water in the xylem is under tension so when cut, water will move into xylem, not out. A resin duct cell while having a positive hydrostatic pressure does not contain enough cell sap to drown the insect. Resin duct cells do secrete resin when mechanically damaged, and seal wounds when resin components polymerize; this process does trap insects (amber is fossilized resin). This process costs the plant virtually nothing in terms of water, and is a small, but significant part of the overall carbon economy. When photosynthesis is reduced for any reason the plant will re-allocate even less of its carbon to defensive compounds. So from that perspective silviculture and logging practices may affect the vulnerability to insect attack. However, Dan Herms at Ohio State has shown that stressed trees can be actually more resistant to insect attack, at least at a whole forest level. Regardless many of the defensive mechanisms that plants have against insects and pathogens require that the plant recognize that it is being attacked. It could very well be that the insect has recently evolved mechanisms to elude detection or to circumvent the plant defenses. This especially an issue when the plant is exposed to a novel herbivore/pathogen. Probably the way a bark beetle or EAB kills the tree is by girdling the trunk such that the all phloem transport is stopped.
Another factor that might come into play is atmospheric CO2 levels. Elevated CO2 levels would increase photosynthesis but this could lead to forests which could support higher numbers of insects. Apparently under highly productive conditions, the trees produce and store more digestible materials.
[Response: I think you’ve misinterpreted some things. Beetle attacks certainly do affect plant water status–by both fungal disruption of xylem water flow, and loss of some water via resin solution exudation, which is obvious when you look at any tree under attack–unless that tree is so dehydrated already that it has so little water to exude. I didn’t say the resin exudate “drowns” them, just that it kills them, which it definitely does. Beetles are not eluding detection–this is obvious when you look at any tree under attack. Phloem translocation is definitely interfered with during attack, although the proportions of the eventual loss of function due to adult vs larval feeding is not clear to me. I would be interested in any refs you can provide showing that physiologically weakened trees are more resistant to attack, because this goes straight against common understanding–Jim]
The pileated woodpecker is the main pine beetle predator, and it nests only in snags (large standing dead trees). The small holes and cavities they make serve as protection from creatures such as hawks and martens that prey on them.
Old trees are burned or removed during clearcutting, to create space for more planted saplings. Old trees are critical to forest ecosystem health, including after they topple, when they provide grub habitat and replenish the soil. Dozens of species live in standing and prone dead trees at various stages of their life cycles.
The loggers don’t care anymore than the coal companies who are destroying the mountains of Appalachia.
Like many New Englanders, we live surrounded by a dense mixed-species forests. White pines are the dominant conifer, but is there any evidence of lower risk from pine beetle infestations in forests that are half (or more) mixed deciduous? Of course, other species have their own pests to worry about, and the moths eat them all.
[Response: I’m not up on any specifics related to eastern white pine (or e.g. red spruce etc), but I do like your question! Tree spatial patterns are a component in this thing and are one of the reasons that species like lodgepole, ponderosa and whitebark pine get hit so hard–they are all capable of forming single species stands, making contagious spread easier, especially given that pheromone signalling is involved.–Jim]
Out here they’ll attack anything, even spruce sometimes, although not often (yet). Most of the pines at lower elevations here are ponderosa. Lodgepoles higher up.
[Response: That sounds about right. I’d like to see what’s happening to the whitebarks and limbers in your area.–Jim]
[Response: On second thought, no I wouldn’t… ]
Comment by Rattus Norvegicus — 25 Oct 2010 @ 1:21 PM
Fascinating. Thanks for the information!
And points out something I have trouble getting through folks heads sometimes… Too many plants can produce just as much harm as too many animals in a given area. It seems ever so simple “too much of anything can be harmful” but humans routinely behave as though its not. Admittedly it is probably a natural instinct that requires discipline, training and education to overcome.
Comment by Robin D Johnson — 25 Oct 2010 @ 1:26 PM
Nice one, and good pictures! Looking forward to the rest.
re #16 (Sweden),
Were those bark beetle larvae? What were they doing in lawns??
But yes, Scandinavia has reasons to worry too, though there hasn’t yet been an outbreak of spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) as severe as the one caused by storm-felling and drought in the 1970s. (In Norway, where pheromone-baited traps were developed to control the pest, there was even a hit song called “Beetle Bark Boogie.”) Climate change could be changing the game already. 2006 saw the first double-generation summer for bark beetles recorded in Sweden, according to the NYT. Research in Norway (e.g. this) and Sweden (e.g. this) suggests bivoltinism could become the rule in the latter half of the century. Boogie on…
[Response: Thanks for the comment and good references. Switches to multivoltinism are indeed real cause for concern–Jim]
Useful against the second wave plague of flickers and woodpeckers:
Of the 11 species of woodpeckers (including sapsuckers) that live in Washington …. Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides. …. Flickers inspect tree trunks and branches for wood-boring beetles … http://www.seattleaudubon.org/sas/LinkClick.aspx?link=301&tabid=271
Preventing Woodpecker Damage
The northern flicker, responsible for most woodpecker damage to Colorado homes, …. Insecticides or wood preservatives may deter woodpeckers … http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/06516.html
Weinberg’s Second Law: “If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.”
I’m sure it’s some sort of glitch that caused my earlier comment to be erased, since it is on-topic and perfectly pleasant, so here it is again:
[Response: No, it wasn’t a glitch and if you call: “Unfortunately this situation is so critical that we just can’t wait for scientists entrenched in old ways of thinking to save the ecosystem from total collapse”, perfectly pleasant, then I’d hate to see what you consider hostile. I deleted that comment. It’s full of nonsense such as “The trees on the east coast aren’t turning beautiful colors this year, nor did they last year.” and a bunch of other unsubstantiated general claims without reference. If you want to spout such things, you have your own website to do that. This article is about bark beetles killing trees and you’re welcome to discuss that if you want–Jim]
Upon graduation from forestry school 30 years ago, I was handed a chainsaw, sent to Colorado, and told to thin lodgepole pine forests to beetle-proof them against the then on-going epidemic (how well did that work?). I’ve seen no compelling evidence that the current outbreak is different in some fundamental parameter (e.g., size, mortality) than past events. We humans tend to be subjectively poor at evaluating the relative magnitude of infrequent, large-scale events. If a remarkable event has happened only once in one’s lifetime (e.g., one’s first big snowstorm as a child), it makes a big impression.
A nit-pick: “In western North America, true deciduous forests are strictly riparian and therefore limited.” The oak spp. forests of western Oregon and northwestern California are not riparian and were quite extensive before European cultivation and fire suppression.
[Response: Valid questions and points Andy. I hope to address those issues in the next post. I will say however, that many people who work in this area feel that the combination of the geographic extent and spread, number of tree species being attacked, and intensity of the attacks, makes the current situation worse than any in recorded history. And you are definitely correct about the deciduous oak woodlands of CA and OR–Jim]
Jim, you might want to note in the next post this MPB news aggregator blog. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting to follow the issue on an ongoing basis.
Also, I haven’t checked out the links Jim Eager provided in #22, although I will, but I recall finding a couple of obscure papers on a search ~6 months ago that indicated that jack pines are perfectly palatable to MPBs. IIRC the main evidence was that the beetles have already been found to be thriving on a hybrid of jacks and another pine species (possibly lodge poles). In any case there seemed to be no evidence that the beetles won’t find jacks as tasty as anything else. The factors that seem to have impeded the jump to the boreal so far are that the access to it is pretty far north (very cold winter temps) and forest cover is a bit spotty leading up to it. I suppose there’s some irony that this same general area is where the tar sands are located. Anyway, I’ll see if I can locate those papers again.
[Response: I think you are right on there Steve, although I too need to read up some more on it. Going from memory I’m almost certain they hybridize, and even if they don’t the MPB is able to attack a wide number of pine species. I think there might well be spatial contiguity issues as you state.–Jim]
Insecticides are not effective once the beetle lays its eggs in the tree, they have to be applied before the tree gets infected, but can be used to protect particular trees. Another problem is the vast areas that are infected – over 35 million acres in BC alone – that include prime salmon spawning grounds. I gather that in Alberta controlled burns are being tried as a control measure.
BC had a crash program of harvesting dead trees but it seems that the logs are rotting in the stacks.
Andy Stahl, nice to hear from you. The last time I saw you I think was at a Sierra Club forest conference in Pasadena in 1993, featuring Martin Litton, Tim Hermach, and Chad Hanson, where you delivered an excellent speech (I made one myself that day).
I appreciate your knowledge about the evils of fire suppression, but don’t agree that the current beetle infestation may not be unique or at least highly unusual. Yes, the NW drought of the 30’s was more severe, but it occurred without current warming conditions and before the western forests had been virtually liquidated. The result recently has been a larger beetle outbreak in spite of wetter overall conditions. I realize you’re in an awkward position with your organization, but would welcome a comment about the general issue of industrial logging. Maybe we should pretty much leave the woods alone for a while by reducing our wood products consumption to a minimum (we currently consume 25% of the global total), and substituting inert and durable materials.
25 Mike Roddy: I share your dislike of logging companies but however hard you try I will never believe them a significant cultivator of MPBB. BC loggers have been hard at it for over 125 years but it is only in the last few decades that beetles have come to be the great destroyer of forests. My most recent memory of sustained periods of -40 temperatures is about 1985 and that in the Rockies. Since then there has been no significant die back of the beetles. BC has been fighting MPBB in Tweedsmuir Prov park for 20 years and that is close to being a roadless wilderness, no logging at all. If the beetles develope an appetite for Spruce they’ll be at the tree line before I die and I’m 70.
Thanks for the clarification about pheromones, though the implications of ‘communications’ versus insecticides is not entirely obvious.
[Response: The idea with pheromone treatments is to either lure them into traps where they die, or repel them away from trees, i.e. using highly targeted chemicals and thus avoiding the side effects of the less specific insecticides, as e.g. Richard describes above.]
39 Richard Simons,
Thanks for adding that about protecting particular trees. It sounds like we are talking about something that could be managed with adequate trained labor. Now we are getting somewhere; we have a lot of people needing real work.
I mean of course that we are getting somewhere in the discussion. The next step is to get it into the political discourse.
38: MPB’s and jack pines. I’m out of my depth here but I live in the southern rockies. We call Ponderosa pines jack pines and they definitely get hit by what we call \bark beetles.\ Dunno if bark beetles = MPB’s and not sure if you include Ponderosa among \jack pine\ that’s just what we say around here. There are yellow jack and \black jac k\. The yellow ones tend to be bigger and older than the black ones.
They definitely have been hit by bark beetles although I think that since about 2005 or 06 the drought has let up and the widespread death has stopped. (This is my own undocumented observation. Take it with a grain of salt.)
[Response: That’s some sort of local usage. Jack pine = Pinus banksiana, primarily a Canadian and Great Lakes species, closely related to lodgepole pine.–Jim]
Comment by John E. Pearson — 25 Oct 2010 @ 6:04 PM
I realize that you are probably very frustrated that your posts have not been met with acclaim. I and most of the other posters understand and share your sense of urgency. It is important, though, that the science be done rigorously and conservatively, espeically given the microscope it is under. Denialists are eager to mine any quote from this site that could sound alarmist, even if they have to distort the context to do so. (Remember the UEA hack).
My recommendation would be to read the blog entries and the quotes of the posters who are generally well received. There are ways of emphasizing urgency without giving fodder to the denialists. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t hold it against the moderators.
Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. — The political discourse b3elongs somewhere else other than RealClimate. Thank you.
Comment by David B. Benson — 25 Oct 2010 @ 6:33 PM
okay, since you had an objection to the sentence you quoted, here’s my comment WITHOUT the objectionable passage:
The trees on the east coast aren’t turning beautiful colors this year, nor did they last year. They have holes, stippling, chlorosis, and are turning brown, shriveling up, and falling off prematurely. The conifers are turning bright yellow, and then their needles fall off. The bark is oozing, splitting, and falling of branches and trunks. Lethal cankers are prevalent, and lichen is spreading unnaturally quickly.
Foresters are trained to look for disease, fungus, bacteria, and drought when trees die. This is analogous to blaming the death of an AIDS patient on pneumonia. There is a much broader force at work here than any collection of pathogens…and it is the composition of the atmosphere. It could be that we have reached a level of background tropospheric ozone that is intolerable to vegetation – or it could be the recently mandated addition of ethanol to gasoline, since trees are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate, annual crop yieldsare markedly reduced, and even ornamentals planted in good soil in pots with regular watering exhibit the characteristic damaged stomates on foliage indicative of exposure to ozone.
Trees have natural defenses against native threats, but they lose the ability to deter attacks when they are weakened by ozone. The insects, fungus and disease that begin to thrive as ozone levels increase have been described by a researcher at the Aspen FACE research center as the “sharks in the water” circling an injured victim.
Here is an article about their findings followed by an excerpt:
“The trees of the future may be much more vulnerable to a variety of pests, say scientists studying greenhouse gases in northern Wisconsin forests. Their work is published in the Nov. 28 edition of the journal Nature.
Researchers in the Aspen FACE (Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment) Experiment, based in Rhinelander, Wis., have been measuring the effects of elevated levels two greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and ozone, on aspen forest ecosystems. While the trees, Populous tremuloides (trembling aspen), seem to do relatively well in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, ozone is another story.
Trees growing in an ozone-enriched atmosphere have been hit much harder by their traditional enemies: forest tent caterpillars, aphids and the rust fungus Melampsora.
“This has been a surprise,” said Professor David Karnosky of Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, a principal investigator on the Aspen FACE project. ‘Our experiment was never meant to look at pest occurrence. But it became obvious that the greenhouse gases were affecting the abundance of pests.'”
“What is actually killing many of the trees is bark beetles (western pine bark beetles), who are able to attack the O3-weakend trees. That is, beetles are the proximate cause of death, while O3 is ultimate – or is the ultimate factor high population density and use of fossil fuels? In addition, the trees’ weakened roots are vulnerable to attack by root rotting fungi which can cause death (recall that O3 decreases plant allocation of carbohydrate to roots…).”
Also at the top of my blog is a page, Basic Premise, with an extensive list of links to scientific research about the impacts of ozone on vegetation, which has been recently supplemented by the heroic efforts of “Highschooler,’ a courageous teenage student who reads my blog and understands what is at stake. Maybe it helps to be young or an amateur to “think outside of the box”.
I am not frustrated that my posts haven’t been met with acclaim. I am disgusted that they have been DELETED.
We are in a f***ing emergency where we and everything else is in danger of going extinct.
I’m bloody fed up with websites like real climate that are ostensibly reality-based but in actuality are just more propaganda for the fossil fuel industry profits that control science, media, universities, and government.
I am disgusted with scientists, I say with deep regret.
Print that, your climate real b*******s!
[Response: Do please calm down. RC is not, has not been, and will not be, providing ‘propaganda for fossil fuel interests’ at any point. I would have thought that was obvious to anyone. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everyone on what they think is going on, or what should be done. Let’s please try and maintain a little decorum and maintain at least the possibility of dialog. If you aren’t happy with that, I assure you that swearing at us is not going to help. – gavin]
Gail has never misrepresented herself as a scientist. She is an amateur – she even calls herself a provocateur. And she happened to point out some very current and needed studies on ozone damage to plants.
Tropspheric ozone is a quite big deal and I hope that RealClimate can revisit that topic as you see fit.
[Response: A quick comment to say that, yes, we are well aware of tropospheric ozone, and yes, it is an issue for trees. It is probably not the issue, but we will do a post on this at some point to try to clarify things. –eric]
Perhaps we both should be kind to the realclimate folks, who mostly try hard to support discussion. I appreciate that very much.
If it is consolation to you, I differ with your opinion about degree of urgency and doom; though not about need for a serious solution. But I also contend that I think outside the box about solutions. And I am an old codger. The consolation you should note is that I asked about insecticides repeatedly; many of these being summarily deleted. Finally, we got some real discussion. And I learned some stuff.
Re #50 (Richard Pauli): I don’t see the point of allowing the rants of Gail Zawacki through moderation. Claiming such things as that that RC is propaganda for the fossil fuel industry is (as another Pauli would put it) not even wrong.
Science is frustrating, but it works, and it works because it is conservative and systematic. What is more, I think that deep down, most people know it works. So it is extremely important in the case of climate change that science be seen to be working in the normal fashion. Otherwise, we will not convince our fellow citizens that action is essential.
The scientists have been fighting this battle a long time. Arrayed against them are lying SOBs who will stop at nothing to protect their entrenched interests. The only weapon scientists have is the truth, and it is essential that we not overstate the risks and not even appear to overstate the risks. Truth is the one weapon our opponents will never have in their arsenal.
Jim, may I bother you for a bit of off topic, but sorta on topic advice? The Blue collar, as I call it, that is revealed when the pine is sawn open, is as I understand it the remnants of the blue stain fungi. Now some enterprising ladies in the interior of B.C. have been making a good living selling this processed wood to the East, especially Japan, calling it “Denim Pine”. And i have also been transporting this pine to Vancouver as firewood. i am only using standing dead so i am under the impression that it is not a concern. But could it be? I have not been able to find a ban on transportation on the B.C. Gov. website.
Now the last post leads to this post. Jim, again, from what I have been told, if the beetle did not carry this fungus, more then likely most trees would survive. The gent that I was talking too, though not Forestry, has spent most of his life in the forest business. He was saying that in fact it was the fungus that actually kills the trees by basically starving them to death by filling their trnsport cells full of this fungus.
And from my experience on our small plot, it seems that this may hold some water. It appears that the trees do not really start showing signs of problems until a year or so after the beetles leave.
Do you know if there are any efforts to maybe “help” the beetle, i.e. genetically modifying them, so that they become a less hospitable host for said fungus?
Re: insecticides. My conversations indicate (again with a single source, our city forester) that carbaryl is the only insecticide which is effective against the MPB. The drawback is that it is toxic to just about all fauna, including H. Sapiens. See this. This makes it, to put it mildly, quite unsuitable for the ecosystem scale application which would be necessary for controlling the MPB infestation in western forests. The most effective means of applying it is directly to the trunks of trees early in the lifecycle of the MPB. Too early and it has no effect. Too late and it has no effect, the tree is already doomed.
Pheromone packets work well but are very expensive and labor intensive to apply on a large scale, but they are effective in controlling the infestation. Once again not suitable for ecosystem level application since about every third tree needs to have one nailed to it and they need to be renewed periodically. There are two things that do work: once every tree in a stand is dead they go away (lack of suitable habitat) or an early freeze. It looks like both are at work here in SW Montana, last year we had an epic cold snap in early October and large numbers of favored species have already been killed. These conditions has slowed it down a bit out here. The funny thing is that the MPB generates it’s own antifreeze, but only after a certain point in the life cycle.
Comment by Rattus Norvegicus — 25 Oct 2010 @ 9:09 PM
I second the request for an “official” statement on whether it is temperature or ozone. I thought it was climate [ winter temperature] only.
[Response: Edward, what in the world? Please people, I’m seriously, very quickly losing my desire to contribute any more articles on the topic. In fact I think I already have–Jim]
Jim (both of you), re: use of pheromone-baited traps,
Any Scandinavian biologists who actually know this stuff are welcome to chime in, but here goes: At the height of the ’70s outbreak, Norwegian entomologists and chemists isolated spruce bark beetle pheromones, and a domestic firm started synthetic production. A trap design was cobbled together from plastic drain pipe, a funnel and a collection flask (fuzzy picture here; this one’s fallen down, they’re supposed to be vertical). Pheromone dispensers were placed inside the long black pipes, which had entry holes; the beetles sniffed the perfume, entered the pipe and fell into the flask. This approach was preferred to an alternative strategy of baiting logs laced with insecticide. I think over a million traps were produced. The idea was exported to other European countries.
Systematic trapping has continued since 1979 to keep track of the beetle population, with a network of some 400 traps around south and middle Norway. Here’s a picture of the flask being emptied.
There’s no doubt that the things trap beetles, some 10-15,000 each at the height of the outbreak. They also trap some of their natural enemies (checkered beetles). Along with other factors, the traps helped end the ’70s outbreak, and were hailed as a success, but I’m not sure their contribution was all that critically assessed. (Homegrown technology success stories often aren’t.)
There’s scientific debate over how trapping affects population dynamics, and policy debate over how cost-effectively (the traps cost money and, not least, manpower). But this is very much not my field, and I’m not very familiar with the literature, so your Google scholar search for “spruce bark beetle pheromone trap” or similar is likely to be as good as mine.
Thank you Edward Greisch. In another thread, it was said by the moderator, that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Nowhere has the substance been addressed. Even the USDA and EPA say that crop yield losses due to ozone are in the BILLIONS of dollars annually – and they’re trying to hide the real implications!
[Response: End of acceptance of any more of your comments. Your continual, unsubstantiated conspiracy claims regarding agencies and/or scientists’ suppression of information constitutes libel and your aggressive, uninformed attitude is completely counter-productive to real progress.–Jim]
Jim, thanks for the posting on the pine bark beetle part of the great tree die-off. In NE Georgia we experienced our infestation and maximum die-off perhaps ten years ago. Some trees survive, so maybe here at least the trees are somehow immune to the effects of the fungus.
But pines are just a part of the great tree die-off here. Perhaps you or some other expert can explain why the oaks and sweetgums are also dying? And why lichen is suddenly growing so profusely? Why vegetation in the under-story has very little chance of lasting more than a year?
Statistical based science has a limitation: the assumption that ALL variables NOT modeled will remain linear over the range of the model. In the real world, they never all do. That certainly keeps a scientist’s job interesting: finding that non-linear variable and explaining why it changed.
Witsend seems to be suggesting that ground level ozone is not a linear variable in its effects on plant and tree damage and that length of exposure also plays a role. Each species will have it’s own ozone damage threshold which would also be variable because of factors like temperature, CO2 level, moisture availability and nutrient availability. But we crossed some ozone level threshold just a few years ago.
Five years ago climate change was a hush-hush subject in America. We now know who funded the climate change deniers and why. Those same people are interested in preventing research about damage to plants caused by exposure to ground-level ozone in the real world. It’s in their financial interests.
Sadly, seeing the ‘big picture’ of our natural wold has become ‘thinking outside the box’.
Jim, thank you. A truly great article. When I am in California, I live in Big Bear Lake, which sometimes I think is a Pine Beetle breeding capital.
[Response: Thanks John. I fear for SoCal. For that matter, I fear for NorCal.–Jim]
I thought I’d share this excerpted from an article done in 2006. I biased the excerpts to the material revolving around myself because there is a certain humor factor.
I actually did not realize he was interviewing me. I thought he was only there to take pictures because the view from my place stared directly at a mountain full of dead trees.
By Alex Roth
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
July 15, 2006
BIG BEAR – Maybe the massive Sawtooth fire will overrun this popular resort village three hours north of San Diego, and maybe it won’t.
But this much is indisputable: The forest surrounding Big Bear Lake is choked with so many dead trees that a catastrophic wildfire is a very real possibility. Perhaps not today or this week, but eventually.
“How many times can we dodge the bullet?” said John Reisman, 43, an inventor who has lived in Big Bear for 24 years.
In the past five years, beetles have done enormous damage to the Douglas firs and piñon, Jeffrey and sugar pines that grow in the San Bernardino National Forest, which surrounds the town. Anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of the trees are dead, said Bob Sommer, a vegetation specia-list with the U.S. Forest Service.
By late afternoon, a huge brown cloud of smoke had spread over the entire valley. But still, people continued fishing off the docks and launching their sailboats on Big Bear Lake. Fire officials said the wind was blowing in the opposite direction and, for the time being at least, the town was safe.
Reisman, the inventor, was cautiously optimistic that the village would be spared. Every few hours, he’d go on the Internet to check wind conditions.
He was hardly relaxed, however. Standing on the porch of his cabin overlooking the Big Bear ski lodge, he pointed at swaths of dead trees on a mountain ridge in the distance.
“The last four or five years they’ve started dying real fast,” he said.
Making matters more combustible, Reisman lives in a log cabin built by hand. Asked what type of wood his house is made of, he replied, “Flammable.”
Gail, of course you know I’m sympathetic and recommend your blog to everybody. RC is a science site, and it’s reasonable for the mods to shepherd us within the fairly narrow valley of reproducible, peer-reviewed, published science. Hopefully, we can keep the discussion collegial.
[Response: It will never be collegial when certain uniformed individuals rant about their favorite topic, hijack threads and accuse scientists of conspiracy and incompetence. Never.–Jim]
That said, I strongly agree that research into the interaction between atmospheric chemistry and vegetation should be accelerated. The rapidly changing composition of the atmosphere could have various deleterious effects on plant life, well beyond ozone pollution.
[Response: There’s a lot of research that should be accelerated. And there is a LOT of research, past and present, on the effects of air pollutants on ecosystems. Ozone effects are well studied and well known, and are but a minor component of change at the global scale compared to land cover changes, climate change and invasive species.–Jim]
O3 is a major threat. Just read the many studies Gail and I have gathered. Ozone is like plant AIDS. Trees may not be directly dying from o3 but the o3 has made them vulnerable to fungus and disease. O3 also reduces the plants sequestering of CO2. If you care about climate change you should care about O3.
[Response: People care about ozone pollution, and know a lot about it I assure you.–Jim]
Jim, my apologies for wandering OT, but as you know I have long believed that RC should spend a lot more time on forests as sinks, and am happy that you have opened this topic. There is much evidence that logging and beetles reinforce each other, however, and I’d like to see this topic explored.
w kensit, #41, I was in Tweedsmuir Park in 2002, and logging was going on then, though maybe they’ve stopped since. Unlike US parks, BC government land has been degraded by either clearcutting or high grading.
Jim Bullis, it matters little where the wood ends up. Studies show that only about 15% of site carbon at a site logged for structural wood ends up in lumber, since most carbon is emitted short term as slash, soil dehydration, mill waste, branches, and nonmerchantable species. Even the 15% begins to decay immediately, and the original Kyoto protocols didn’t even allow that- on the grounds that the lumber was replacing decayed products.
For Leo G — just because you can’t find a ban on transporting wood with beetle larva doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to be hauling it into your area, whether you’re selling it or using it yourself. How did you look for info?
“Some bark beetles in firewood, such as the mountain pine beetle and elm bark beetle, can infest nearby healthy trees.”
” 8. Do not bring into the Cheyenne area any firewood or store firewood from beetle killed forest trees or local trees during the growing season, April – October.” http://www.cheyennetrees.com/mountainpinebeetle.html
Jim Galasyn – thnx for the comment about blogs. Each blog seems to have a singular purpose. RC is hosting a very healthy science debate with two opposing attitudes that need not be polarizing: science with a civil purpose and pure scientific investigation.
Two interesting things there: First, the 15% number does not reckon in the root structure, which was said to be 80% of the stored carbon. I am looking for verification of that 80%, but I know it is a substantial number. I am looking to the biochar folks to help out with some of the scrap that you mention. Even so, the use of wood at harvest time is not the main objective of the standing forest. That is just one part of the whole picture.
Second, I suggest that the Kyoto folks are wrong when they don’t count the lumber. Yes, of course it replaces decaying wood or burned down houses or whatever. But this misses the point about the net standing wood mass. Of course that net standing wood mass has to continually expand to match coal usage. But this does not prohibit a cycling action, where mature forests are maintained as a stable and balanced system. Think of it as a large, full water tank, with a leak at the bottom, but with a fill pipe dumping water in at the top at a rate equal to the leak rate. The full tank is continuously maintained this way. Thus, the mature forest is maintained. If the maintenance process can include lumber harvesting, analogous to the water coming out of the leak in the tank, that represents expansion of carbon storage. And remember, the storage in the root structure goes on in spite of the leak. That is like another tank buried under the first, so that the leak does not affect the contents of this buried tank.
The same story of the tank applies to a village made of lumber. Sure, some rots and is replaced. But a village still stands. And that functions like another storage tank, again with a leak and a fill pipe. If the village expands, that is not bad either.
The Kyoto folks would be right if they were talking about crops that are harvested on a yearly basis, where the whole agricultural system is emptied each year of its stored carbon content.
But while we are at it, let’s also note that permanent standing orchards are also beneficial as standing wood mass. These are not like the giant redwoods as to magnitude of wood mass, but there is still might be potential in this system. Yes, the orchards are cycled on varying bases, but as long as there is a collective net wood mass in existence, that represents a carbon storage mass of importance.
(David B. Benson) Please hang in here as I momentarily stray into a socio-economic arena, but this suggests an organization of an agricultural system, where orchard operators would be allowed cheap leased land, which they would keep as long as they met the standing wood requirement, for their entire holding.
Now, back to beetles: The same goal with beetle ridden forests should be kept in site. As long as there is a cycling of wood, in and out, we could be ok. And of course, this would entail maximizing forest health as experts in that subject would tell us to do.
“… The effects of these treatments were measured on a wide variety of response variables, including the structure and composition of trees and understory vegetation, fuel beds and coarse woody debris, soils, bark beetle activity, and small mammal and avian species abundance. For a complete description of the FFS study, we refer the reader to our website (NBII 2009). The 11 contributions in this special issue include a lead-off article that describes the history, development, and organization of the FFS study; three articles that document treatment responses on stand structure, fuels, or fire behavior; two articles on the abundance and impacts of bark beetles; and five articles on vertebrate and invertebrate responses to the FFS treatments.
The FFS is one of the largest and most comprehensive forestry research projects ever undertaken ….”
However, I don’t find anything about different tree types. Generalization to coniferous forests seems to the assumption in the reference. But what I was looking for is whether redwoods, cedar or such that are resistant to decay might also be unfriendly to beetles. But then, how about deciduous forests and beetles? What are eucalyptus trees in this respect? (Not that I am campaigning for eucalyptus – – but I am searching for hardy tree options) Or maybe we have to go back to trapping beetles etc.