Ash and emerald ash borer: how do trees defend themselves from a deadly beetle?

This is the first in a series where I peek into the lives of scientists. 

eab-adult
Adult emerald ash borer resting on a leaf. Image credit: Justin Whitehill

You have probably heard about a tiny green beetle from Asia that is blazing across North America, leaving millions of ash trees in its wake (see where and how many here ).  The emerald ash borer (EAB) is one of a growing number of invasive species that are able to dominate ecosystems to which they have been introduced by proliferating uncontrollably. This reduces biodiversity and can disrupt normal ecosystem functions. Invasive species can achieve this feat because they lack a shared evolutionary history with existing species in the ecosystems that they invade. EAB is one of, if not the most destructive alien species to invade North American forests to date (Annu Rev Entomol, 59, 13-30 ). EAB kills nearly every ash tree that it encounters, and it is spreading across the continent at an alarmingly rapid rate. The future for ash trees looks bleak.

But scientists are working hard to find a way to help ash trees survive EAB’s onslaught. Justin Whitehill began studying EAB soon after it was discovered in North America. His dissertation was a quest to find out exactly what allows ash species from EAB’s native home to survive beetle attack, and what defensive capabilities are lacking in North American ash species.

I interview Justin on what unfolded as he pursued the answer. Read the full story at Entomology Today.

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