Research scientists in Atlantic Canada credit early intervention, ramped-up observation methods and even citizen participation in their recent successful efforts to minimize the potentially devastating effects of a few of the biggest threats to forests.
When their populations grow drastically, insects like the emerald ash borer and the spruce budworm can wreak havoc on trees, causing losses in biodiversity and costing cities and municipalities large amounts of money to remove and replant.
“Emerald ash borer is probably the best example of one of the worst invasive species we’ve had for forests,” explained Jon Sweeney, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada. “You lose a tree species, you lose other species that are dependent on that.”
Fortunately, researchers say Atlantic Canada is experiencing a great deal of success in the quest to stay ahead of both insects.
Green prism traps have been placed in various New Brunswick communities in which the emerald ash borer has been found, such as Edmundston, Moncton and Oromocto.
The traps are sprayed with pheromones that attract insects within a 30-metre range, and since beginning the program, Natural Resources Canada has already been able to make some improvements in their effectiveness.
“We did some studies just last year that show that if you put that trap right up in the very top of the tree you can increase your rate of detection and significantly increase the number of beetles you catch,” explained Sweeney.
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“You basically get this big slingshot and shoot a beanbag over the crown and pull a trap up there,” he said. “It’s a little more work but we’ve shown that it really does improve the number of species you get.”
The emerald ash borer is known to rest inside wood and is introduced to new areas when taken on journeys like camping trips. Last year it also turned up in Bedford, N.S.
Sweeney says the beetle is at a stable level and while officials aren’t putting the traps away this coming season, researchers don’t expect the population to be on the rise.
But another insect that’s been a cause for concern in the past could see a slight increase in population.
The spruce budworm population is known to climb to dramatic heights every 35 to 40 years, as estimated by researchers.
The province was diligent in getting ahead of the native species and researchers say that proactivity has paid off.
In 2018, the insect hit northern New Brunswick in droves, mainly travelling from Quebec. That year about 220,000 hectares were affected by the spruce budworm.
The next year the total was down to 10,000 affected hectares.
“The idea was basically if we could get in there early and aggressively,” explained Rob Johns, a researcher with the Canadian Forest Service. “Pushing down what we call hot spots of spruce budworm.
“Ideally that prevents it from seeding and further spreading south through New Brunswick but also into Nova Scotia as a beneficiary of that as well.”
This coming year their estimates are that about 35,000 hectares will be affected, a climb of three and a half times the 2019 numbers.
But that, Johns says, isn’t ringing any alarm bells.
“Budworm is part of the natural ecosystem,” Johns said.
“It’s not an invasive species, you do want a certain amount of budworm,” he explained. “It’s food to birds, food to other insects, it has a role to play in the ecosystem. So the nature of this strategy is stabilize it at low density not collapse the population.”
Residents throughout the Maritimes and even Maine are helping to collect a wider range of data.
Traps are sent out to those who volunteer to be a part of the program and over the course of the year, moths are gathered and sent back, increasing their base of research to all corners of Atlantic Canada and beyond. The project also gives residents a chance to pick the brains of professionals who can help mitigate any insect challenges they may have.
“It makes a huge difference in terms of having this really interesting data set because we couldn’t possibly collect that ourselves,” Johns said.