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Spread by trade and climate, bugs butcher America’s forests

Friday, December 9, 2016   (0 Comments)
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PETERSHAM, Mass. — In a towering forest of centuries-old eastern hemlocks, it’s easy to miss one of the tree’s nemeses. No larger than a speck of pepper, the Hemlock woolly adelgid spends its life on the underside of needles sucking sap, eventually killing the tree.

The bug is one in an expanding army of insects draining the life out of forests from New England to the West Coast. Aided by global trade, a warming climate and drought-weakened trees, the invaders have become one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in the United States.

Scientists say they already are driving some tree species toward extinction and are causing billions of dollars a year in damage — and the situation is expected to worsen.

“They are one of the few things that can actually eliminate a forest tree species in pretty short order — within years,” said Harvard University ecologist David Orwig as he walked past dead hemlocks scattered across the university’s 5.8-square-mile research forest in Petersham.

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Forest pests

In this Oct. 5, 2016 photo, distressed and dying hemlock trees are seen at Harvard University’s research forest in Petersham, Mass. Forests from New England to the West Coast are jeopardized by invasive pests that defoliate and kill trees. Scientists said the pests are driving some tree species toward extinction and causing billions of dollars a year in damage. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)


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