So I’ve started grad school and so far I’m loving it! My work revolves around bark beetles. These are tiny beetles that bore into stressed or recently killed trees, but occasionally attack healthy trees. They are also unique in that they don’t actually eat the wood like some other insects do but instead farm fungi. They have pouches in their heads where they store spores and then infect the tree they bore into. The fungi digests the wood of the tree and the beetles in turn eat the fungi! They literally are farmers! Each species of beetle has its own species of fungus that it infects trees with, and there are hundreds of species of bark beetles. They also are very easily spread across the world in wooden products like pallets, boards, etc. We have been catching dozens of species in the traps we’ve set up here in West Virginia, many of which are invasive. We are also trying to catch a species that’s only ever been found one time and it was back in 1891 near Parkersburg, WV.
You’ve probably seen the squiggly lines underneath the bark of dead trees or in old logs that have had the bark removed. These are the galleries created by bark beetles. The adult female bores in a straight line and lays eggs into the side galleries where the larva then tunnel and feed in their fungal symbiont.
We have traps set here in Morgantown, Parkersburg and as of Friday, Spruce Knob. The highest point in West Virginia. The area is topped with Red Spruce and Canaan Fir. It’s also home to some other rare and interesting species!
Lots of salamanders were found in the leaf litter and under logs near a seep.
There is also a disease that attacks Beech trees and has caused a lot of mortality in them. The fungus that kills them is native, but an introduces scale insect that feeds on the beech makes lots of wounds for the Nectria fungus spores to enter, causing a rot of the living beech tissue.
With the bark removed you can see where the fungi has spread in the phloem and xylem of the tree. Enough infection and the tree will be girdled and die. The reddish dots in the sunken in are are the spore producing structures of the fungus.