Species jump: Mountain pine beetles could infect forests across Canada

Mountain pine beetles have successfully made the species jump from lodgepole pine to jack pine, increasing concerns that the pest could infect forests from British Columbia to the east coast, according to a University of Alberta-led research team.

The group of U of A tree biologists and geneticists discovered that, as the mountain pine beetle spread eastward from central B.C., it successfully jumped species from its main host, the lodgepole pine, to the jack pine. Jack pine is the dominant pine species in Canada’s boreal forest, which stretches east from Alberta all the way to the Maritime provinces.

In Alberta, there is a zone where lodgepole and jack pine hybridize before the switch from one species dominating the forest to the other. There had been no record of mountain pine beetle infection in natural hybrid or jack pine stands, wrote the team in their study, published Monday in the online version of the scientific journal Molecular Ecology. There was considerable evidence to suggest hybrids and jack pine would be suitable hosts for the beetle’s reproduction, though, and they decided to have a closer look.