Spruce Bark Beetle

The relationship of the spruce bark beetle to climate involves three factors, including two direct controls on insect populations and an indirect control on tree resistance. First, two successive cold winters depress the survival rate of the bark beetle to a level low enough that there is little outbreak potential the following summer. However, winters have been abnormally warm for decades in the North American Arctic, so the conditions for this control have not been met for some time. Second, the bark beetle normally requires two years to complete its life cycle, but in abnormally warm summers, it can complete its life cycle in one year, dramatically increasing the population and the resulting damage. This has occurred recently in Alaska and Canada.

In addition, healthy spruce trees can successfully resist moderate numbers of beetle attacks by using their pitch, under high pressure, to push back against the female beetles trying to bore into the tree to lay eggs; the beetles are generally unable to overcome the flow of pitch. However, host trees under stress due to heat and drought have reduced growth reserves, leading to reduced amounts and lower pressure of pitch, and so a reduced ability to resist beetle attacks. When entire populations of trees are stressed by regional climatic events, such as has occurred recently in Alaska and parts of Canada, spruce bark beetle success is greatly increased and large-scale tree damage and loss occurs.

Source & © ACIA Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment  (2004),
 Key Finding #3, p.54

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