April 6, 2011
The unrelenting march of the rapacious mountain pine beetle throughout the northern Rocky Mountains continues and the infestation may be headed further east, according to a University of Alberta-led team of biologists and geneticists.
They found that the voracious mountain pine beetle has spread eastward from central British Columbia and successful jumped species from its main host, lodgepole pines, to the jack pine, the dominant species in Canada’s boreal forest, which stretches east from Alberta to Canada’s maritime provinces.
The beetle first crossed a wide swath of forest where lodgepole pine and jack pine interbreed to create hybrid trees, according to UA. Researchers used molecular markers to conclusively show that the attacked trees are indeed jack pine.
The researchers and Alberta Sustainable Resources Development have tracked the progress of the mountain pine beetle infestation across the province and the insects have been found in jack pines as far east in Alberta as Slave Lake, 200 kilometers north of Edmonton.
Mountain pine beetles, about the size of a grain of rice, spread by flying with the aid of wind currents. Researchers have no estimate for the speed at which the insect might continue to spread eastward.
The research was published in Molecular Ecology and was conducted by the Tria Project.
In Colorado, the spread of the mountain pine beetle has been aided by warmer winters which have allowed the beetles to survive through the season. Scientists have feared that the beetle could jump species and begin to attack Front Range ponderosa pine forests east of the Continental Divide.