Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oh, Canada!

A report from the Hants Journal over at NovaNewsNow.com says that the brown longhorn spruce beetle (Tetropium fuscum) has actually been around in Canada almost a decade longer than entomologists originally thought. It turns out that specimens of the Eurasian invader were collected in 1990 but were misidentified as a native beetle in the same genus. It was not until 1999, when another infestation was discovered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that an entomologist went back to the 1990 samples and the mistake was discovered. That means the beetle had quite an opportunity to spread unheeded. There are now over a dozen sites in Nova Scotia where the beetle can be found, leading to quarantines of wood products and threatening the local logging industry. Unfortunately, Canada doesn't seem much closer than they were in the late 1990s to developing an effective treatment to protect its forests, so for now the Forest Service is continuing with its "containment by cutting" method of management. That incensed groups like Friends of Point Pleasant Park, who were quite active a few years ago when this story originally broke - they were convinced that the government was overreacting.

Update: In the comments, Monique brings up another example of an invasive species hiding by misidentification, a parasitic plant species in Texas (Orobanche ramosa). The point here is not to belittle the identification work that biologists are doing - I know it is a gargantuan task to keep track of the various characters that define plant species, and especially insect species! It is just interesting to consider whether focusing more resources towards rigorous sampling and cataloging of flora and fauna might benefit us in the long run if it enabled us to successfully prevent invasive species from becoming established.

The other case I can think of off the top of my head is the invasive aquatic plant Hydrilla that was found in Connecticut in 1989 but misidentified as another invasive, Egeria densa. The error was not discovered until 1996. Got more examples? Post them below!

Update 2: Thanks to Chris for pointing out various inaccuracies in the article (see comments on this post). This might have been a recycled news story but it is the first time the brown longhorn spruce beetle made it onto the ISW's radar!


Monique in TX said...

The same thing happened in the plant world--when the Eurasian parasite Orobanche ramosa showed up in Central Texas 1997, it was mistaken for a native species. The two years spent realizing the mistake cost us the battle against this insidious pest. Ever and always, the danger of our lack of competent, trained taxonomists and field biologists is made painfully clear.

Jennifer Forman Orth said...

Now wait, I thought farmers hated *all* Orobanche, native or not! :-).

Monique in TX said...

They do hate 'em all, but the natives are so infrequent in this part of TX that they scarcely register. I have not seen one in my 20+ years of local roaming. O. ramosa we can't miss, since it's as populous as bluebonnets on some stretches of road.

Chris in Alberta said...

Hi Jennifer,

Your blog is normally pretty well researched but you've strayed with this post. The article from the Hant's Journal to which you are basing your post appears to have some factual errors; BSLB was found in Halifax in 1999 (not 1998, see your own link to the CFIA webpage); the mistaken identity story is _very_ old news (again see the CFIA link) and was partially due to the fact that T. fuscum (the alien species) is very similar to T cinnamopterum (the native); the Canadian boreal forest does not reach into Nova Scotia, the hurricane referred to in the article (Juan I believe) occurred in 2003, not 1999; the pheremone is not "genetically modified", but a blend of attractants (a pretty common method used to control/trap wood boring beetles); Lastly, the Friends of Point Pleasant Park website, they were very active in Halifax in 2000, but are now defunct and the website has gone stale, probably for many reasons, not the least of which is the aforementioned hurricane wiped out most of Point Pleasant Park. Halifax was subject to a quarantine after the discovery in 2000 and an intensive program of monitoring and trapping that was pretty effective at slowing the spread of BSLB. If you check a map the infestations reported in the article are 60 Km from Halifax, which in beetle terms is pretty close.

Jennifer Forman Orth said...

Ah well, even the ISW occasionally falls victim to recycled and inaccurate news reports.

Let's go through this one line by line:

- "BSLB was found in Halifax in 1999 (not 1998..." - Sick and dying trees were first discovered in 1998 in Point Pleasant Park. Looks like they weren't exactly sure what the cause was until 1999, but they were almost certainly suspicious in 1998 (Excellent timeline ref). This feels like a pretty minor error to me.
- "The mistaken identity story is old news" - ok, but it was new news to me, and in fact in the 5+ years I have been blogging I have never posted about this particular species. So I'm glad I did the story, even if it is old news.
- I think it's obvious from the post that the native and alien Tetropium were similar and was definitely not trying to imply that someone stupidly mislabeled the 1990 specimens. I hope no one took it that way!
- "Boreal forest" in Nova Scotia, date of hurricane, pheremones, - the article's reporting error, not mine! Bad article! Bad, bad article!
- The FoPPP being inactive...that is my error. I noticed the website seemed very "old school" but often neighborhood groups put up very bare bones style-code-free websites like that with the sole goal of disseminating information. You are right though - no activity there since 2001. The Canadian Forest Service site I link to above also peters out after 2001, though this article from July 16, 2007 (if accurate!) indicates that the beetle is continuing to spread and quarantine zones are being updated in response to this.

I apologize for the errors. I will edit the post to reflect the issues you have raised.