Beetle infestation not boring to ash tree researchers

An infestation of beetles has taken over ash trees in parts of the midwest.

Southeast Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennslyvania and Maryland have all found the emerald ash borer destroying the various types of North American ash trees.

Ground breaking emerald ash borer research is being done here in Bowling Green to help find a way to stop the metallic beetle from killing these trees.

Ohio State University Professor Dan Herms and his fellow colleagues are collaborating with David Bienemann, city municipal arborist, to isolate the genes allowing Asian variety ash trees to deter the pest.

Planting started last Thursday on Dunbridge road at the wastewater treatment plant. Researchers hope to plant a combination of 192 North American, European and Asian ash trees.

“What we are interested in is to create an ash tree resistant to the emerald ash borer,” said Herms, an entomologist at Ohio State University. “Our objective is to try and identify the specific genes and genetic markers that are resistant to the ash borer.”

Herms and his colleagues hope to isolate the DNA code protecting the Asian variety trees and develop a hybrid ash tree that can resist the beetle.

But researchers don’t want to destroy the essence of the North American ash tree.

“[We want to do is] maintain all of the characteristics of your North American species where all you have from your Asian species would be the genes involved in the resistance,” said Jennifer Coch, a research biologist with the Northern Research Station of the Forest Service and a member of the graduate committee working on the research at Ohio State University.

The emerald ash borer was first detected in southern Michigan ten to 15 years ago and was brought over from Asia. The larvae of the insect is the most devastating stage of the process when it imbeds itself into the bark of the ash trees and essentially starves the tree to death.

“Over in Russia, China, Korea where the emerald ash borer is native they don’t kill the native species, but over here our ash don’t have the same genetic code so they are susceptible [to the beetle],” Bienemann said. “It is not known as a pest over there. They would have some known natural predator or bacteria infestation and over here there is nothing at this point in time.”

Creating a hybrid tree isn’t the only research being conducted to help stop this devastating insect.

“There is research involving looking for natural predators to introduce to help keep the population at bay. There is research involving different chemical sprays that can contain the insect ” and there is also people working with the possibility of trans genetics and getting genes through that process,” Coch said.

The emerald ash borer was first detected here on campus in July 2006 between East Hall and Memorial Hall and all 300 or so ash trees on campus have been infected. Not only are the trees on campus infected, but off campus as well.

As students there are little things that can be done to protect North American ash trees.

The biggest way to protect trees is by being informed, not moving infected wood, informing others about the pests, becoming involved in research projects and influencing the political process so politicians develop sound environmental policies, Herms said.

Herms added, there are a slew of evasive insects, plants and animal affecting our environment, not just the emerald ash borer and it is important to be educated on all aspects of the elusive pests.