Emerald ash borer losers…and winners?

Downy Woodpecker (winner) on a black ash (loser). Photo: Marylylle Soveran, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Downy woodpecker (winner) on a black ash (loser). Photo: Marylylle Soveran, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The news for ash trees has been decidedly gloomy thanks to the steady march of the emerald ash borer.

But new research suggests what might be a silver lining or a glimmer of hope: emerald ash borers provide a healthy boost in food supply for birds like woodpeckers. (Going beyond tasty bugs, dead ash trees also offer more habitat for cavity-nesting birds.)

That was a major finding of a study published earlier this month in the journal Biological Invasions (“Effects of the emerald ash borer invasion on four species of birds”). U.S. Forest Service entomologist Andrew Liebhold worked with Cornell University scientist Walter Koenig and others in research that focused on the Detroit area. Here’s more from an informative USDA Northern Research Station press release:

“The emerald ash borer has been massively destructive because most North American ash trees have little or no defense against it,” Liebhold said. “We can take heart that native woodpecker species are clearly figuring out that EAB is edible, and this new and widely abundant food source appears to be enhancing their reproduction.”

And, apparently, this study relied upon team work from U.S. and Canadian nature-lovers:

Data used in the study were collected by volunteers for Project FeederWatch, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada project in which volunteers count birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locations from November through early April. The data helps scientists track movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Will all areas experiencing ash die-off see similar – if temporary – spikes in woodpecker populations? As reported by the Ottawa Citizen’s Tom Spears, that may seem likely, but it’s still too soon to be sure.

Speaking of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, if you have 8 minutes to spare for a beautiful pick-me-up, check out this slideshow highlight reel of the justly-beloved heron cam for the 2013 summer nesting season.

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19 Comments on “Emerald ash borer losers…and winners?”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    I’m sorry but if someone wants to play to good news/bad news story line, wouldn’t it be wonderful if a new,incurable disease killed half the human population and thus saved the environment for those who didn’t die?

  2. Dave Douglas says:

    Good for those woodpeckers! Now if we could just tempt them with a few tasty Japanese beetles.

  3. The Original Larry says:

    Always the cheerful one, aren’t you, Pete? Wow…only half the population?

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Not suggesting anything, Larry. Just couldn’t resist commenting on the glass half full/half empty story.

  5. Mick says:

    The massive forest die-off in the Western US is caused by the Pine Bark Beetle and the fires are a result of dead standing timber.

    This article is nonsense and is an attempt to justify the prohibition of forest protection controls in the Forest Preserve.

  6. Lucy Martin says:

    Mick, I am curious about your point, which I may be misunderstanding.

    Was there a time the terrible pine beetle infestation out west could have been nipped in the bud, so to speak? Would that have been possibly by applying forest protection controls, if only that had been done more promptly with strict implementation?

    Do you think the present situation with the emerald ash borer could be stopped/reversed through different human behavior?

    Of course some organisms (like zebra mussels) spread faster when aided by things people do. It’s folly to help the creatures get established in uninfested areas.

    But at a certain point, don’t some of these invasives become so well-established that they spread perfectly well on their own?

    Please elaborate, if you are willing.

  7. Mick says:

    The recent warmer winter temperatures have been attributed in part to the spread of both EAB, ALB, and Pine Bark Beetle. Forest Protection control measures for these species is primarily thinning and removal. Successful controls have been documented. However, on the Federal lands and Forest Preserve lands, where mechanical controls are prohibited, there is a much larger risk or widespread infestation.

    Could infestation be stopped / reversed through different human behavior? Yes, first our legislators need to behave like humans, and understand that regulations need to be changed, then it will take some humans with feller / bunchers and trucks to remove the infected trees, thus saving the threatened trees.

    The Spruce Budworm infestation in Maine in the early ’80s is a reasonable example. However, those bugs were controlled with insecticides. Treated forest were saved and untreated forests were lost.

    Would I ever condone intentional introduction of an invasive specie? I sure would, and it’s common practice to introduce one specie to control another. In order of control preference: Mechanical control, biological control, chemical control (prescribed burns are considered mechanical control). Would I condone introducing EAB in the Adirondacks for the sake of wildlife forage? Sure I would, if there was only one Ash tree.

    Make sense?

  8. Lucy Martin says:

    Thanks Mick. Glad to have the discussion.

    I confess I am more familiar with invasive species issues and control efforts in Hawaii than on the mainland. Similar struggles, but all happening in a smaller area with individual islands.

    Biological control efforts in Hawaii have seen some spectacular failures – as when mongooses were introduced to control rats – and some home-run successes (importing a parasite to control a gall wasp that was killing wiliwili trees).

    As for the mountain pine beetle, apparently it’s not even an invasive and some authorities say control methods don’t work.

    But let’s come back to this region. What do long-timers who know the forests of the north country think? Can emerald ash borer still be contained? How?

  9. Lucy Martin says:

    Sorry, my previous comment should have made some mention of existing control efforts & policies, like this emerald ash borer info site from NY state.

    I think Mick is arguing the current EAB situation represents a failure of policy & implementation. (Please correct that characterization if it’s wrong, Mick).

    Do readers agree?

  10. Mick says:


    Your reference says that mechanical control does work. The chemical control was ineffective

  11. Lucy Martin says:

    I guess this is subject to interpretation on the part of the reader.
    This source says control does not work, but it may be possible to stop/slow the spread of outbreaks.

    While I appreciate Mick’s willingness to engage the subject, I’m going to stand down for a while to let others chime in, if anyone is so disposed.

    Large block quote below from this site:

    “Management: Control methods have shifted away from direct control (e.g. spraying, felling, burning) and towards prevention of outbreaks. This course of action was chosen after thoroughly exploring direct control measures for nearly a century and arriving at a simple conclusion: They don’t work. It is possible to prevent infestation with penetrating sprays on individual, high value trees such as those in campgrounds and near houses, but they need to be applied before the tree is infected and the cost of such treatments is prohibitive for any large-scale application.”

    “Once a mountain pine beetle outbreak begins to spread, it can be stopped by thinning the stand ahead of the edge of the outbreak. This is because outbreaks expand on a tree to tree basis where the incoming beetles switch their attacks from a recently attacked-stem to the next largest tree. More importantly, infestations can be prevented by thinning stands before crown closure, an operation that not only increases the vigor of the residual stand, but also prevents the spread of an outbreak if individual trees have been attacked.”

    “Mountain pine beetles are a natural part of western ecosystems, and for this reason will never be completely eradicated (nor should they be, as they serve to create small stand openings which are important for biodiversity of both flora and fauna)”

  12. Mick says:


    Are you looking for a conversation about transporting firewood, prohibiting wooden pallets in commerce, limiting human access to forest preserve, etc.?

  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mick: “The massive forest die-off in the Western US is caused by the Pine Bark Beetle and the fires are a result of dead standing timber.

    This article is nonsense and is an attempt to justify the prohibition of forest protection controls in the Forest Preserve.”

    I am not sure what point Mick is trying to make, but there are corrections that should be made. Fires in the west are not a result of dead standing timber, though the dead timber does burn easily. Also, the article does not appear to be “nonsense”, but instead a survey of what has happened in areas that have been affected. Nor does it appear to be an attempt to justify the prohibition of anything. It appears to be the work of people trying to understand the world around them.

  14. jeff says:

    Many insects can sense stressed plants and flock to them so insect populations can build as a result of other factors in addition to being opportunistic.

    We’ve had ash yellows and ash dieback or ash decline for 35 years or more and I haven’t noticed more pileated woodpeckers.

    Imports have not done us a favor with regards to invasive pests- chestnut blight, dutch elm disease and the gypsy moth etc. Even if intentional as in the gypsy moth. The EAB has had the wind to help as it was introduced in the Midwest while the gypsy moth had to move west from the coast.

    The fires are only alarming because they are in the news, people and structures are in the way. As much as the acreage quotes seem shocking the fires are usually not solid blocks of burned land.

    I think the point of several remarks in a story like this, for people knowledgeable about the topic is, it isn’t exciting news. And given that the host is being rapidly removed in cities and private lands very quickly the bird population boom will be a boomlet.

    It does show the value of citizen data collection.

  15. Paul says:

    Is the plan in NYS regarding the EAB that there is no plan? There are management techniques that can be used to stop the spread of EAB. Once you have an infestation you have several options. Infestations in NJ and Western NY have been isolated by clear cutting. It would be much worse without those measures. Is the plan to do the same thing in the Adirondacks? The constitution allows that type of cutting in an emergency situation. Just have not seen any plan. If the plan is to do nothing because they think nothing can be done than that is fine as well I guess. But according to the science something can be done.

  16. Paul says:

    Is there some kind of a tree frog we could introduce that would eat the beetle. If they become a problem we could introduce some kind of animal that eats the frogs. If they become a problem……… (lessons from Australia)

    I think they have tried using some wasp to kill some other kind of beetle, maybe it is for EAB?

  17. Lucy Martin says:

    Even if the means exist to control (eradicate?) EAB in North America, is there sufficient political will? With sufficient public support for strong-measured responses?

    And even if, say, NY state put together and imposed a super-strict plan I’m not sure a state-by-state response would do the job. After all, the problem exists in many adjacent states and on both sides of the US/Canadian border.

    So what would it need? A super-federal/international response? How well would that go down?

    I ‘d love to be wrong on this, but I suspect there isn’t enough consensus or funding to truly stop EAB from spreading. Which may be why existing responses can seem inadequate to the threat.

  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The idea that you would cut every ash tree in the ADK or Catskill Park to stop an infestation is silly. If eradicating all the trees outside the park didn’t work what would be the point?

  19. jeff says:

    Lucy the sense I get from this side and I work with the wood industry is that the rate of spread is beyond what we can overcome. The Asian Longhorned Beetle is coming and is worse because it is less selective about its hosts and favors sugar maple. Like EAB it grows from eggs laid under the bark and thus is hard to treat with insecticides.

    Quarantines may help a little. So firewood hauled from Cortland into Long Lake, for instance might impact the Adirondacks. More wood flows south into quarantined zones rather than north. Wood flows into Canada where the bug already exists via trucks hauling veneer and other logs.

    Despite the Dutch Elm Disease I see healthy mature elm trees from time to time that are far enough from other trees to survive because the carrier of the disease, a bug, generally only flies so far. And I have seen mature American Chestnut trees (not huge but 15″ diameter) that grew where the blight was not in the soil when the tree was young. So whatever happens, we’ll have some Ash. Beech has been under the gun over 30 years with Beech bark disease but it hasn’t knocked out Beech.

    From this side of the forestry fence we wonder when is the onslaught of invasive pests going to let-up. Personally I question the quality of inspection of those who import to us. The price we pay for globalization, I don’t like the price. We’re seeing the price of one failure in 1000.

    If Klein wants to kill half the population.. take the invasives with them.

    Years ago when white pine blister rust was more of a problem we threw government money at removal of the transfer plant- gooseberries and related plants and sent out CCC crews and others to break the cycle. More could be done today that looks like action but may not be cost effective.

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