Researchers at WCU study how a beetle might be able to fight woolly adelgid, save hemlocks

    Researchers at Western Carolina University are studying ways to save hemlock trees from the woolly adelgid. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

    Researchers at Western Carolina University are studying ways to save hemlock trees from the woolly adelgid, which arrived in America from a hemlock tree imported from Japan in the 1950s. Ever since, it's been killing trees in our forests.

    “When they hatch, they'll tap in and they'll start to suck the phloem from the, the sap from the tree," WCU biology professor Jim Costa said.

    Biologists know a predator beetle called a laricobius consumes adelgids. They're often planted in forests for control. But WCU researchers are studying to see if it's more effective to plant the predator beetle eggs.

    “If that's successful, we think that it could be a game changer. It could really change, greatly facilitate control efforts by changing the way people rear these beetles,” Costa said.

    WCU researchers said the laricobius beetle eggs will be planted in woods around Jackson County's Pinnacle Park in a few weeks. Researchers will come back in the fall to measure the success.

    “We're just prepping the trees to mark the branches that have enough hemlock woolly adelgid ovisacs on them that, once the beetle eggs hatch, they'll be plenty of food for them to chow down on,” Dr. Angela Mech, with WCU geosciences and natural resources, said.

    This research is capturing state support.

    “If you lose the hemlock, it will fundamentally change forest ecology. It could have an impact on things as diverse as trout fisheries, things like that, or recreation, as well,” said Steve Turner, with North Carolina Agriculture and Consumer Programs.

    The research is on target with for WCU biology student Gabby Williams.

    “This is kind of right up my alley with what I want to do,” she said.

    The focus remains on saving a landmark tree famous in these forests.

    “That is the end goal, and we're working on it one step at a time,” Williams said.

    “We're not going to give up on the hemlocks,” Mech said.

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