Small Bug, Big Bite

In one of my GEO 1350 lectures, my professor touched upon the topic of climate change and how it relates to the mountain pine beetle in Canada. I decided to do some background research on this topic and came across an interesting article. I had no idea how such a small creature could create so much damage to our forests and to the pulp and paper industry!

Before 1993, no one had any idea what mountain pine beetles were since they were much like any other insect inhabiting British Colombia’s forests. For the past decade, the mountain pine beetle’s population had rapidly expanded, infesting B.C’s forests and wiping out the growth of mature lodgepole pines; the trees crucial to the province’s pulp and paper industry. The provincial government estimates that the beetle’s spread will implement economic problems for 30 communities and will impact 25,000 families whose livelihood depends on the pulp and paper industry.

The rapid growth of these beetles is a result of climate change. Ironically enough, the beetle’s damage to the forests has had an impact on the release of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere, which are responsible for increasing climate change and can be traced back to helping these little creatures survive and exponentially increase. A Canadian Forest Service scientist, Werner Kurz, estimates that the beetles will release almost a billion megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the year 2020. According to Kurz, that is equivalent to five years of emissions from Canada’s transportation sector alone!

"This system hasn't evolved a way to deal with the beetle. How will it react to an invasion? Right now, we don't know," said Allan Carroll, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Services.

Unfortunately, little can be done in order to stop these beetles from destroying lodgepole pine trees in the forests of western B.C. The damage by beetles has become too widespread and much of the damage has already occurred. The beetle is expected to have wiped out 80% of the pine forest by 2013. However, it is predicted that once the lodgepole pine population declines, the beetle population should also decline.

If the beetle continues to spread, it poses threat to the pulp and paper industry that thrive off of lodgepole pine trees and to other forests that are alike, such as the jack pine, which spreads from Alaska to Newfoundland. Scientists are still uncertain if the spread will be rapid and they worry that the beetles will make their way to the boreal forests. However, the boreal forest may not have enough mature pine to sustain the beetles, therefore in theory, the beetle population would slowly die out.

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