Well not just about beetles. It’s also about pine trees, New Jersey, forest ecology, nature in general, and science. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of beetles.
Dendroctonus frontalis, the Southern Pine Beetle (often abbreviated SPB), is less than the size of a grain of rice, but its impact on our world is on the order of millions of acres. With far-reaching ecological effects to multi-million dollar economic impacts, these diminutive insects have gained the attention of timber producers and forest lovers from Alabama to New Jersey.
The SPB feeds on the phloem of pine trees, coordinating mass attacks using aggregation pheromones and overwhelming tree defenses. The result is epidemic tree loss that is startlingly apparent from above the forest, and eventually obvious from ground level as entire stands of pines drop their leaves and die.
Photo credits: Matt Ayres
In 2008, the SPB crossed the Egg Harbor River in New Jersey and began moving to the north and west. By 2010, the beetles were in the heart of the New Jersey Pinelands, causing an epidemic of tree death that has been projected to destroy 80% of the forest in the next ten years if no action is taken.
We’ll be watching the SPB this summer from the Rutgers field station near Pemberton, NJ. While conducting field research on the SPB and its associates, we’ll be trying to capture a few unique stories that describe the current situation both from a biological and social or economic point of view. Along the way, we’ll often stop to revel in the hidden beauty and diversity of the surprisingly large and wild forests of New Jersey.