Warmer springs give Pine Beetle lethal evolutionary advantage
While studying the mountain pine beetle, Biologists from the University of Colorado have discovered an unsettling effect of the recent trend warmer springs and shorter winters.
Jeff Mitton and Scott Ferrenberg used a study site at 3000 metres near the Mountain Research Station in the Colorado Rockies and found that longer summers are allowing beetles to begin their flight season more than a month earlier than historically reported.
Here’s the bummer in their findings: the pine beetles are reproducing twice during a season rather than just once.
By the numbers, each female beetle typically has 60 offspring, and each of those would have 60 more - resulting in a single female having as many as 3600 offspring in one season.
It is not known if the devastation caused by the recent pine beetle epidemic in the western United States and British Columbia, ten times worse than any previously recorded, has been caused in part by beetles breeding twice in a season, or if this new biological cycle is relatively new and we are yet to see the impact on the forests.
This year, the contiguous United States has been hit by the warmest March on record, based on data going back to 1895, with more than 15,000 high temperature records broken during the month.
I guess if you’re a pine beetle, that’s good news. For the rest of us, the decimation of the pine forests it troubling, to say the least. There are the obvious biological implications of a changing climate, but even at the immediate personal level the pine beetle is changing both recreation and work in western North America.
Silviculture, the practice of cultivating and managing healthy forests, is forecast to become a booming industry, but on the other hand, some logging communities and recreational communities will see their livelihood drastically compromised.
Hikers, hunters, fishermen, mountain bikers, backpackers, adventure travellers, and other outdoor enthusiasts between New Mexico and the Yukon Territories are seeing their favourite forests change from lush, shady, green places into red, dry, sunbaked, wastelands with the hazard from falling trees forcing land managers to close some trails and roads and campgrounds.
The impacts of climate change, regardless of the causes, cannot be ignored. At CMH, we take the responsibility of operating in the natural world quite seriously, and publish a sustainability report annually to give full disclosure of both our impacts and our progress.
Photo of a young adventure traveller enjoying the CMH Bobbie Burns adventure trail, and healthy forest in British Columbia, by Andrea Johnson.