July 5, 2008

Emerald Ash Borer Recently Discovered in Chicago

The emerald ash borer, a colorful beetle from Asia that has killed tens of millions of ash trees in seven U.S. states, was first reported in the U.S. in 2002. This month, forestry officials announced that the ash borer had been found within the city limits of Chicago. U. of I. Extension entomologist Phil Nixon talks about the infestation with News Bureau Life Sciences Editor Diana Yates.

Is it possible to stop this bug?

Probably not. It is likely to eventually eliminate ash trees in North America. How long that takes can be affected by people. Also, resistant trees may be developed. For chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease, it has taken about 50 years to develop trees that are apparently resistant. Recent developments in gene technology may speed that process by several decades.

What can people do to help stop - or at least slow - its spread?

The most important thing to reduce it and other potential serious tree pests is to not transport firewood more than 50 miles from where it is cut. It is likely that that's the way that emerald ash borer got into Illinois. There are insecticide applications to protect individual trees, but funds are insufficient to pay for the protection of forest or public-owned trees.

Can state officials require that an infested tree be removed?

Yes, but they are unlikely to do so. The emerald ash borer is too widespread already in Illinois to be eradicated with the options and funds currently available.

An Asiatic fungus wiped out billions of chestnut trees in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Is the ash destined to go the way of the American chestnut, or do researchers have some tricks up their sleeves for saving this species?

Work is currently being done to look for genes present in resistant Asian species of ash with the goal of cross-breeding or inserting these genes into North American ash species.

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