Bryan College and the University of Tennessee have teamed up to try to protect Dayton’s Pocket Wilderness from a tree-killing insect invasion, Dr. Brian Eisenback said.
Dr. Pat Parkman of the University of Tennessee releasing beetles to combat the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid in Pocket Wilderness.
Dr. Eisenback, professor of biology, recently helped UT’s Dr. Pat Parkman release 3,615 Sasajiscymnus tsugae beetles in the Laurel-Snow State Natural Area, a segment of the Cumberland Trail known as Pocket Wilderness to generations of Bryan students. These small beetles are a natural enemy of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), a non-native invasive insect that kills hemlock trees.
Dr. Eisenback said the project began when one of his students, Curt Hays, found HWA infesting Eastern hemlock trees in the park. “This was part of his senior research project in biology, and was the first known incidence of HWA at this location,” Dr. Eisenback said. “HWA was accidentally introduced to the east coast over 50 years ago and is now spreading through eastern forests. HWA is killing hemlock trees throughout their native range, and threatens to impact native forest ecosystems.”
To combat the pest, the U.S. Forest Service has sponsored an intensive research program to investigate HWA control. Part of the initiative is to raise and release natural enemies of HWA in a biological control program. “Several predator beetles have been studied, reared and released as biological control agents,” Dr. Eisenback said. “Each of these predators displays a very tight ecological relationship with HWA, and there is no evidence that these beetles pose a significant threat to native organisms.”
This beetle release was made possible by funding from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and other non-governmental agencies and was carried out in cooperation with David Lincicome from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, park ranger Andy Wright and park manager Bobby Fulcher from Cumberland Trail State Park. For more information, see the Lindsay Young Beneficial Insects Laboratory webpage.
“Our hope is that these beetles will establish at Laurel-Snow State Natural Area and that they will help suppress the spread of HWA,” Dr. Eisenback said. “In the future I will be working with Bryan students to monitor the hemlock trees for signs of beetle establishment and to track the spread of HWA throughout natural areas in and around Rhea County. It is an exciting opportunity for me and my students to be involved in a larger effort to help save hemlocks.”