It isn't much bigger than a grain of rice, but in the numbers that are invading Alberta, the Mountain Pine Beetle is making a meal of our vast forests. An estimated million and a half trees have been affected in the province so far and the infestation is a serious threat to 23 billion dollars worth of Alberta timber.
Current control efforts receiving wide attention mostly involve prescribed burns but Genome Alberta and its partners are looking much deeper into the underlying problem. The TRIA project is looking at the interaction between the tree, the beetle and the blue stain fungus (hence the name Tria which is Latin for three). The fungus is introduced into the tree by the beetle and ultimately does as much if not more damage to the tree than the beetle itself. The genome for the fungus has not been sequenced and the joint Alberta - BC team is at the forefront of this research.
Understanding the complex relationship between the 3 species can take us beyond burning as a control strategy. Once we have a complete picture of the interaction we can predict Mountain Pine Beetle growth, spread, and behavior so that industry and policy makers can develop stronger forest management strategies. It will also give us a more complete picture of why some trees can fight off the infection effectively and how it may be able to 'jump' species.