Here’s a story that should be of considerable local interest. All of us who spend time in the woods of Arizona’s high country have seen the devastation wrought by bark beetles on conifer trees weakened by drought. Over a million acres of our forests have been affected. While all those dead trees are good fodder for saprobic fungi in the short to medium term, this is obviously bad for mycorrhizal species, and in the long term bad for all of the fungi and other forest life we love.
It’s fitting that Rich Hostetter, a forestry researcher at NAU, is now using a fungus called Beauveria bassiana to fight back against the beetles. The spores of this fungus quickly penetrate the beetle’s hard exoskeleton, and infect it with a rapidly growing cottony white mold. After a simple application to the affected trees with a sprayer, some 90% of the beetles are killed within a day or two. It’s more cost-effective than many other methods of treatment, too. Sounds very promising! One hopes it is not bad for other, more desirable species of arthropods, however.