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Slippery bark protects trees from pine beetle attack, according to CU-Boulder study
Date:12/23/2013

Trees with smoother bark are better at repelling attacks by mountain pine beetles, which have difficulty gripping the slippery surface, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The findings, published online in the journal Functional Ecology, may help land managers make decisions about which trees to cull and which to keep in order to best protect forested properties against pine beetle infestation.

The current mountain pine beetle epidemic has spread across 3.4 million acres in Colorado since the outbreak was first detected in 1996. The tiny beetles, which are about the size of a grain of rice, bore into the pine bark. The trees fight back by exuding pitch, which pushes the beetles back out of the tree. Large-scale and continuous beetle attacks can kill the tree.

Doctoral student Scott Ferrenberg, who led the study, said he first began to suspect that bark texture might affect the survival of trees while he and Jeffry Mitton, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, were walking through a stand of high-elevation limber pines. They noticed that surface resin, a residue of fighting off a beetle invasion, was common only on patches of rough bark.

"We found trees that had both textures on the same stem, and when the tree was attacked, it was on the rough surfaces," Ferrenberg said. "We thought the beetles were either choosing to avoid the smooth surface, or they just couldn't hang onto it."

To determine which was the case, the researchers tested how well the beetles could hold onto different bark textures. They placed each of 22 beetles on a rough patch of bark and on a smooth patch. They timed how long the beetle could stay on each surface before falling.

Twenty-one of the 22 beetles were able to cling to the rough bark until the test ended after five minutes. But all of the beetles fell from the smooth bark in less than a minute.

The resultsespecially combined
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Contact: Scott Ferrenberg
Scott.Ferrenberg@colorado.edu
303-492-8956
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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