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Researchers find the further they go, the stronger mountain pine beetles’ signal gets

A dead pine beetle is shown on the inside of a piece of bark peeled from a beetle-killed tree near Albany, Wyo., on July 12, 2017.
A dead pine beetle is shown on the inside of a piece of bark peeled from a beetle-killed tree near Albany, Wyo., on July 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Dan Elliott

Over the last 30 years, mountain pine beetles have chewed through 18-million hectares of forest in Western Canada, and University of Alberta biologists now have a better sense of how they do it.

Researchers have determined that the female mountain pine beetles’ pheromones — called trans-verbenol — can draw other beetles to a tree from tens of kilometres away.

Faculty of Science graduate student Kelsey Jones says the most intriguing part is the fact that the further these beetles go, the more trans-verbenol they produce.

“It’s kind of an evolutionary stable strategy, because they have these beetles that are playing it safe and these beetles are the ones that are going to keep the population steady and growing,” Jones said.

“Then you have the beetles that are taking risks and those beetles are going to be the ones that are spreading the population.”

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READ MORE: Alberta budget adds $5M to fight mountain pine beetle; Edmonton on alert

The U of A team collected pine beetles from trees harvested in Hinton, Alta., tracked the beetles’ flight distances using a flight mill and then measured their trans-verbenol production in a lab.

“It was expected that if they fly further, their energy source will be diminished, so they won’t be able to produce as much of this pheromone,” Jones said. “But in actuality, you have the opposite.”

Jones said the U of A team’s research suggests beetles could colonize trees as they move further east, where they have more “search potential” and less competition between their offspring.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Watch below: Some Global News videos about mountain pine beetles.

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