Spotlight on Research
Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State
Is the emerald ash borer lurking in other parts of New York State? What do we stand to lose when it becomes established?
These important questions motivate the research of Dr. Melissa Fierke, Assistant Professor of Forest Entomology at SUNY-ESF, and her students, Warren Hellman and Pete Rockermann.
Dr. Fierke has a long-standing research interest in wood-boring insects, and the recent detection of the emerald ash borer (EAB, Agrilus planipennis) in Randolph, NY, presents new opportunities for investigating an invasive wood-boring beetle that will likely have devastating impacts on New York’s natural and managed forests.
“The reason I wanted to focus on EAB is that I think it will have profound effects on forest ecosystems,” Dr. Fierke explains. “EAB is a specialist that attacks and kills only ash (Fraxinus spp.) trees. I’m really troubled when I think about how this species that we accidentally introduced may cause the extirpation of ash, a culturally and ecologically important tree in our Northern forests.”
This summer, ESF graduate student Warren Hellman joined the team of federal, state and local officials and volunteers seeking to delimit the Randolph, NY, EAB infestation and determine if the beetle is hiding in other locations in New York State. Rather than using the conventional purple prism traps prescribed for EAB detection, Hellman is enlisting the help of a native solitary ground-nesting wasp,
, to survey for EAB. Female Cerceris
specialize in capturing metallic wood-boring beetles (Buprestidae) like EAB, which they paralyze and bring back to their ground nests to provision their young. Hellman has crisscrossed the state, searching poorly maintained baseball diamonds and dirt roads for
ground nests and monitoring the buprestid beetles that the females bring home. Although Hellman’s bio-surveillance efforts have not yet resulted in an EAB detection in New York, work in Quebec and Ontario (where EAB is well-established) suggests the detection abilities of
are unmatched and it’s only a matter of time until they find EAB.
Warren Hellman monitors the ground nests of the native wasp, Cerceris fumipennis,
for females returning with buprestid beetles like the EAB.
Graduate student Pete Rockermann got a jump on his research before the EAB detection. With New York largely surrounded by states and provinces with established populations of EAB (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario and Quebec), the Fierke lab knew the state’s first positive detection was imminent. So last year, Rockermann studied riparian and upland forests to provide baseline data for ash trees across New York State before the impending EAB invasion. This summer, he is concentrating specifically on the impact that EAB could have on moth species in forested wetland habitats where ash trees are a large component. Some species, such as the waved sphinx moth (Ceratomia undulosa
), feed almost exclusively on ash trees and are in danger of local extinction with the expected loss of ash from EAB. Says Rockermann, “I am hopeful that the data I collect will be useful for providing historical data of moth diversity in these threatened habitats.”
Pete Rockermann uses pole pruners to collect branches from an ash tree that he will examine for moth caterpillars.
For more information about research in the Fierke lab, see:
To learn more about Cerceris bio-surveillance: