Good vibrations: Ky. research gives hope in fight against emerald ash borer

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emerald ash borer on leaf
(Purdue University Department of Entomology photo/John Obermeyer)Invasive species, like this adult emerald ash borer, are a growing problem in the United States. Their origins may be innocent or a mistake, but the proliferations create widespread damage. Experts say there are nearly 50,000 invasive species in this country today.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Entomology researchers in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment have received encouraging results in their fight to protect ash trees from the emerald ash borer.

EAB is an exotic wood-boring invader that kills ash trees. During the past two growing seasons, UK forest entomologist Lynne Rieske-Kinney, her lab members and personnel from the Kentucky Office of the State Entomologist have released three species of parasitoid wasps that may be capable of helping to stop the invasive insect.

This summer, Rieske-Kinney and Bill Davidson, UK entomology graduate student, recovered one species, Tetrastichus planipennisi, from several sites and by multiple sampling methods.

Good vibrations

Tetrastichus planipennisi lands on the bark of a tree and detects the chewing vibrations EAB larvae make while feeding within a tree. The parasitoid then lays its eggs in the EAB larvae, eventually killing it.

“Tree mortality occurs so rapidly that it is difficult to get parasitoids established in time, and ash conservation is primarily reliant on chemical protection,” Rieske-Kinney said.

Her approach uses lower amounts of chemicals to slow EAB development and delay tree mortality, releasing biological control agents and giving native parasites time to discover newly invading EAB populations.

“Our findings suggest that the parasitoid is becoming established in the research area.”

Rieske-Kinney conducted research in the north-central Kentucky counties of Henry, Spencer, Fayette, Anderson and Shelby. The emerald ash borer is well established in Henry, Shelby and Anderson counties.

“While the EAB is present in Fayette and Spencer counties, we have not seen any tree mortality at our study sites in those counties yet,” Rieske-Kinney said. “We’re hoping to catch the infestation as it arrives.”

Other biocontrols

In addition to the parasitoid establishment, UK forest entomology researchers found two native parasitoid groups with potential to be natural biological control agents for the borer.

One of the groups, Atanycolus, has been recovered by researchers in northern states as well. The other genus, Heterospilus, is a parasitoid that has never been associated with the emerald ash borer before.

Heterospilus species are known to parasitize native wood-boring larvae, several of which are closely related to the emerald ash borer. Davidson and Rieske-Kinney recovered at least two species of Heterospilus in borer-infested logs.

“Our findings suggest that this genus may easily transition to EAB,” she said. “They also suggest that our native parasitoids may be learning the emerald ash borer is available and may be using it as a host, hopefully contributing to EAB suppression.”

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