Insects are a very common type of pest that, on being introduced to a new environment with previously unseen flora, can wreak havoc on the ecosystem by rapidly eating and destroying the flora there. One example is the emerald ash borer. It is an Asian beetle first spotted in North America in 2002, it has killed a countless number of ash trees. Owing to the economic value of these trees, it is also responsible for damage in the tune of $10 billion.
The new approach that researchers have come up with strives to solve this problem by identifying beforehand, which insects from which region are most likely to exploit the flora if introduced to it without any regulation. Researchers from America, Europe, and China are planting “scout” trees from their regions in distant nations and then observing which insects attack. This method can help us in stringing together a more efficient and robust response system in case any of the pre-identified invasive pests are introduced.
The project is well on its way to get the first batch of trees from all over the world planted in other nations. Already, a large number of North American and European trees planted in China has helped the scientists to identify and study more than a dozen insect species of concern. A group of 23 nations has launched a project that will establish scout sanctuaries in North America, Asia, and South Africa and let the researchers from those areas plant the trees from their nations in Europe. The first batch of Asian trees could take root in North America very soon as well.
The methodology has been studied for a long time now, and it’s only now that researchers from around the world are taking note of its effectiveness and trying to identify the possible threats through it. A French team of Entomologists has led the movement by planting seven trees in China and within a short period, identifying five possible threats to the trees planted. They even took one of the species back to Europe and studied it under quarantine. Later, the results showed the insect capable of destroying numerous trees. This was the first threat identified by this method, and the species of insect that was identified was banned from Europe.
Chinese researchers have identified a species of beetle that was particularly adept and destroying sweetgum trees planted near Shanghai. The identification led to the study of the species, which later proved that if the beetle had been introduced to the North American ecosystem, it would have destroyed the native sweetgum trees.
The first ‘scout’ American trees planted in China in 2018 have helped detect eight species of concern. This method is particularly helpful in identifying pests which in their native environments, show no pest-like characteristics. Since this project is quite new, the effects of insects on old trees have not yet been studied, but as time passes, we could see the results of the experiment come in.
Another big concern is what to do after they have identified the pests? This study could potentially prompt a debate on biosecurity policies and how they must change in light of the new information provided by this ingenious method.