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Mountain Pine Beetle Jumps Tree Species

The Mountain Pine Beetle is on the move not just from one tree to another, but across tree species. A group of researchers funded in part by Genome Alberta, have conclusive evidence that the Mountain Pine Beetle is now invading jack pine. The usual host for the Mountain Pine Beetle is the lodgepole pine, and now that the beetle has crossed over to another host, it is poised to move east across the boreal forest. 

It has long been suspected that the beetle was invading hybrid tree species, but using newly developed DNA genotyping and location data, the University of Alberta team found that pure jack pine are now being attacked by the beetle and the blue-stain fungi the beetles injects into the tree. The discovery was largely due to the work of U of A molecular ecologist Catherine Cullingham, first author of a paper published online today in the journal ‘Molecular Ecology’. ( the open access version is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05086.x/full )

“Tracking the pine beetle’s progression and telling jack pine from the hybrid species took a lot of work” said Cullingham. “It was tricky, but our research team used molecular markers to conclusively show that the latest pine species to be attacked are indeed jack pine.” 

University of Alberta Researcher Janice Cooke points out that the “Jack pine is the dominant pine species in Canada’s boreal forest. Its range extends east from Alberta all the way to the Maritime Provinces.” The infected area of north-central Alberta is a gateway area into the boreal forest. The paper also suggests that apart from the new host species opening up a new range for the beetle to attack, the risk could be made worse by future climate change. 

“Forest Managers now have to recognize the fact that before there was a barrier as the beetle occurred only in lodgepole pine, but now it is occurring into the boreal so it can continue spreading. Forest Managers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario are going to have to be cognizant of this potential and the potential impact on their forests.” said Cullingham.

The current Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak has affected over 14 million hectares of forest land in Western Canada. It is the largest outbreak documented since record taking began 125 years ago. 

Genome Alberta’s President and CEO David Bailey said, “This is an excellent team led by Dr. Janice Cooke and with this new information on the MPB’s ability to survive and multiply on other pine tree sources it places pressure on the researchers to find a means of slowing the beetle migration before it has infected and destroyed even more of our northern boreal forests.”

The research is to be published online today in the journal, Molecular Ecology. This research is being conducted by the Tria project and is funded by the Government of Alberta through Genome Alberta, Genome British Columbia, and Genome Canada.

About Genome Alberta:

Genome Alberta is a publicly funded organization that initiates, funds, and manages genomics research and partnerships. We are based in Calgary but lead projects around the province and participate in a variety of projects across the country. We are one of Canada's six Genome Centres and work closely with these centres to advance the science and application of genomics, metabolomics, and many other related 'omics'. Apart from the scientific contributions and advances that come from our research, we contribute directly to the economy and have put almost 20 million dollars into salaries, benefits and consumables since we were created in mid 2005.

For the latest in life science news visit our GenOmics application at http://facebook.genomealberta.ca or visit us on the web at http://genomealberta.ca

For more information or to arrange an interview:

Mike Spear

Director of Corporate Communications

Genome Alberta

(403) 813-5843

email: mspear@genomealberta.ca 

We also have a series of images related to the new Mountain Pine Beetle findings:

Click on the image to go to the higher resolution images available on our Picasa photosharing site. All images are available under a Creative Commons non-commerical licence. Please let us know where and when you will be using them.

Mountain Pine Beetle ImageMountain Pine Beetle Image

Mountain Pine Beetle Jumps Tree Species

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