Sentinel Trees Planted to Combat Destructive Insects

A major problem when a new insect migrates into a new area is the impact they have on the area’s ecosystem. In 2002, the emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle, was discovered in North America. Since then, researchers have estimated the beetle has killed hundreds of millions of tress and caused more than $10 billion in damages.

Now, scientists are planting what they call “sentinel trees” in an effort to try and combat this destruction. By taking trees in their native area, planting them in foreign nations, and then seeing which insects attack the tree and damage it, they can get a better idea of what insects need to be removed if discovered in their area.

The U.S. and Europe have already been able to plant trees in China and gather research on several types of insects there. In Europe, 23 nations have launched an initiative to plant sentinel nurseries in North America, Asia, and South Africa. And next month, as long as the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t affect anything, the first batch of Asian trees will be planted in North America.

The entire idea was pioneered by a team led by Alain Roques of France’s National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment between 2007 and 2011, when the team planted seven tree species in Fuyang and near Beijing.

Roques mentioned how planting the trees could be an issue, with one of his trees being destroyed by a Chinese farmer, who was not aware that the damage being done with by design. Other instances saw people afraid that the trees would bring the foreign insects to their area.

Nonetheless, funding for these ventures is ramping up and more projects are being announced.

It will take a long time to see the full results and conclusions of the experiments. Some insects won’t attack a young tree, so the researchers will have to wait for the tree to mature and see what changes. There is also the possibility of some trees becoming stressed when not in their native soil, which can cause results to be mixed.

Governments are also hoping to use the findings to incorporate into biosecurity policies and practical actions.

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