Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

As ash borer claims more trees, researcher at ISU works for species survival

15.09.2009
Mark Widrlechner may someday be known as the modern-day Johnny Appleseed for ash trees.

As the devastating insect emerald ash borer is working its way across North America destroying almost all the native ash trees it encounters, Widrlechner is rapidly collecting and storing ash tree seeds.

Like the legendary Appleseed who planted apple trees across the country, Widrlechner's seed stocks can serve as a national source for reintroducing ash trees once the devastation can be controlled.

Widrlechner, horticulturist for the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture at ISU, is a curator at the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station in Ames, Iowa, responsible for collecting and maintaining seeds for several species of trees, including ash, for the USDA's National Plant Germplasm System.

As the pest devours ash tree populations on its way across North America, there may soon be few, if any, ash trees left.

"Where these borers have been present the longest, it has basically been a total wipeout," said Widrlechner.

"That is something we rarely see in nature," he said. "It's uncommon for a pest to come in and just clean something out. It doesn't just attack sick trees. Emerald ash borer attacks healthy trees. It attacks small trees. So you don't have just big, old trees falling to this, you've got 2 to 3 inch saplings falling to this."

Estimates from New York - one of the states the insect will infest as the devastation grows in circles spreading outward from Michigan, where it was first discovered in June 2002 -- put the total number of ash trees destroyed at 70 million as of June.

Emerald ash borer is native to Asia, and North American ash trees have not shown any natural resistance to it. The pest's larvae burrow just under the bark and into the circulatory system of the tree. The larvae interrupt the tree's water and nutrient delivery system. Starved of nutrients, the branches die. Eventually the entire tree is lost.

Now, Widrlechner is racing the clock to collect seeds from different ash species including green, white, blue, and black ash, and many variations within each species.

He thinks he may be about 10 percent there.

"When I first found out about the emerald ash borer, we had about 60 different types of ash tree germplasm (seed) in our system," said Widrlechner. "Now we have about 220. Ultimately, I think we'll need at least a couple thousand to represent the diversity that's out there. In the next two years, we should really start to make a dent in it."

The situation has mobilized members of the ARS, the United States Forest Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bureau of Land Management and many state agencies and public gardens all to find ways to contain the pest, save the ash trees and conserve their seeds.

In January, Widrlechner became the national coordinator for all the agencies involved with seed collection and conservation.

"We've got a lot of people working on it," he said. "I just got back from southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois looking for good, natural populations that have seed. We find them, mark them with the GPS coordinates and then go back when the seeds are ready in September and October."

One of the problems this year is that many of the trees are not producing very many or very good quality seeds.

Widrlechner says this happens in certain years and is not very well understood.

Widrlechner's recent trips to New England and throughout the Midwest are designed to collect seeds ahead of the growing infestation.

"The strategy that we're following right now is focused on the area just outside the range of the insect or the area where the insect is just moving into," he said. "Places where the insect has been for a while we've lost. There's just so little ash to go back to."

Once Widrlechner collects the seeds, he stores them in the Plant Introduction Station and also at a secure backup site at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Co.

The Plant Introduction Station is a joint project of Iowa State University, the USDA and the State Agricultural Experiment Stations of the 12 north central states as part of the National Plant Germplasm System. The facility keeps an inventory of many types of plant germplasm. The seeds are used in research locally and sent to researchers around the world as needed.

The effect of losing the nation's ash trees would be felt in many areas.

Throughout much of the U.S., ash is a popular shade tree along streets and in residential landscapes. The dead and dying trees pose major hazards and are expensive to remove, and will leave many city streets without trees for shade or beauty.

Also, Native Americans use ash trees for baskets and other crafts, and baseball bats are traditionally made from the wood.

The biggest problem might be in the hole that's created in the ecosystem.

"I'm really concerned," said Widrlechner. "You take a major tree out of the forest and what is going to fill the hole? Another native tree might do it or something non-native could fill the gap and change the ecosystem."

Despite the challenges, Widrlechner says there are reasons for long-term optimism.

Ash seeds tend to remain viable even after years of cold storage. If, and when, the germplasm in the Plant Introduction Station is needed, new ash trees should grow from the stored seeds.

A similar episode nearly wiped out the American chestnut nearly a century ago. In that case, fungus called chestnut blight brought in from Asia caused the devastation. After much work, researchers have developed blight-resistant trees.

Now American chestnut trees are being re-introduced into their historical home, primarily in the Eastern United States and in the Appalachian hardwood forest ecosystem where they can help restore those forests to their former diversity.

Mark Widrlechner | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.iastate.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Crop achilles' heel costs farmers 10 percent of potential yield
24.01.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

nachricht How much drought can a forest take?
20.01.2017 | University of California - Davis

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>