2011-01-31

Pine Beetle Secrets Unlocked Fungus It Carries Weakens Tree's Defences, Vancouver-based Researchers Discover

B.C. scientists have decoded a genetic secret that could help explain why mountain pine beetles have been able to ravage forests in Western Canada and the United States.

A fungus carried by the tiny beetles weakens a tree's natural defences, and has even developed the ability to feed on fungicidal resin chemicals the tree produces to protect itself, the Vancouver-based researchers have discovered.

The fungus is best known for the blue stain it creates in the wood of trees killed by the insects, but little was known about the role it played in the infestation.

2011-01-28

Fungus has role in pine beetle infestation

Scientists have decoded a genetic secret that could help explain why mountain pine beetles have been able to ravage forests in western Canada and the United States.

A fungus carried by the tiny beetles weakens a tree’s natural defenses, and has even developed the ability to feed on fungicidal resin chemicals the tree produces to protect itself, Canadian researchers have discovered.

The fungus is best known for the blue stain it creates in the wood of trees killed by the insects, but little was known about the role it played in the infestation.

Connecting the Dots in Western Canadian Mountain Pine Beetle Research

Genome Alberta has been active in Mountain Pine Beetle research since 2008 when we got together with variety of partners to establish the Tria Project. These partners include Genome B.C., the University of Northern B.C., University of British Columbia, and the Canadian Forest Service. The work is funded under Genome Canada’s competition in Applied Genomics Research in Bioproducts or Crops (affectionately known as the ABC Competition ) with co-funding provided by Genome British Columbia, Genome Alberta, and the University of Alberta and it was all kickstarted with funding from the Province of Alberta.

The team has been doing some great work looking at the interaction between the bark beetles, fungal pathogens and the host pine trees. Though our team was not directly involved in a paper published this week (see the full news release below), Tria Project leader Dr. Janice Cooke from the University of Alberta said, "the data from this study is being used by our Alberta team to identify genetic variants of Grosmannia clavigera that are found in Alberta and determine how the presence of these variants might affect mountain pine beetle spread. These data are also important in our studies of other related fungi that are also associated with mountain pine beetle that are more prevalent in Alberta than in BC."

One of the co-authors of the new paper is Dr. Joerg Bohlmann, a professor in the Michael Smith Laboratories at UBC. He also happens to be a co-leader of the Tria Project with Dr. Janice Cooke so the information and knowledge being collected across the projects is benefiting all Mountain Pine Beetle research.

Blue stain fungus genome decoded

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have decoded the genome of the fungus that helps mountain pine beetles infect and kill lodgepole pines.

Grosmannia clavigera, also known as blue stain fungus for the stain it leaves in the wood of infected trees, is carried to the host trees by pine beetles. It weakens the tree's natural defence system, which allows pine beetles to feed and reproduce in the tree bark. A successful beetle-fungus attack ultimately causes tree death.

Researchers from UBC and the B.C. Cancer Agency's Genome Sciences Centre conducted a detailed genome analysis and identified genes in Grosmannia clavigera that are responsible for the fungus's ability to bypass the lodgepole pine's natural fungicide — and use it as a carbon source for fungal growth.

2011-01-26

Spruce Up: Researchers Pinpoint Genes That Give Pine-Killing Fungus Immunity to Host Tree Defenses

In western North America the mountain pine beetle—the most destructive of the many species collectively known as bark beetles—is on a pine tree–killing spree. Since the 1990s swarms of the tiny killer, spurred in part by a streak of relatively mild winters that don't kill the insect, along with dry summers that leave trees more vulnerable to attack, have destroyed huge swaths of pine forests—around 16 million hectares (an area larger than Florida) in British Columbia alone. The beetles are now threatening to move eastward, and research ecologists are working to rapidly build a better understanding of exactly how insect invasion kills trees, searching for insights that might allow forestry workers better cope with the epidemic.

One thing that has become clear is that the beetles don't work solo but in tandem with various microorganisms with which they have symbiotic relationships. In fact, explains Joerg Bohlmann, a professor of forest science and botany at the University of British Columbia, without these microorganisms the insect "would perhaps never be able to kill trees."

In 2009 Bohlmann and colleagues sequenced the genome of the symbiont seemingly most critical to the tree-killing process, a fungus known as Grosmannia clavigera. Now, he and 22 other authors report in the January 25 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have identified, within that genome, a specific gene cluster that activates in response to a pine tree's chemical defenses, detoxifying them and allowing the fungus to survive in an environment toxic to most microorganisms. The finding will help ecologists better understand the interactions among the beetle, the fungus and the pine tree, and could lead to more precise ecological forecasting models to predict the potential range and extent of the current infestation.


Softwood lumber dispute heats up over salvage timber

When British Columbia government officials sat down in Washington in 2009 over simmering lumber issues, one of their counterparts in the U.S. department of commerce pushed a five-year-old newspaper article across the table and then sat back while the Canadians read it.

It was a Vancouver Sun story from 2004 describing the official, Jim Terpstra, as one of the most hated men in British Columbia. Terpstra was the man who, in 2001, set the onerous duties on Canadian lumber that ignited the five-year-long softwood lumber war. The newspaper article, which he took obvious pride in, was Terpstra's way of letting the B.C. delegation know that he was in this for the long term. He was a veteran of the softwood war and was still in fighting trim.

"He's been a constant on this file," said John Allan, president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries. Allan has been on the file himself since 1996.


Genome of blue stain fungus evolved to bypass tree defense in mountain pine beetle epidemic: UBC research

The genome of the fungus that helps mountain pine beetles infect and kill lodgepole pines has been decoded in a University of British Columbia study.

Also known as blue stain fungus for the stain it leaves in the wood of infected trees, Grosmannia clavigera is carried to the host trees by pine beetles and weakens the trees’ natural defense system, allowing pine beetles to feed and reproduce in the tree bark. A successful beetle-fungus attack ultimately causes tree death.

Now, researchers from UBC and the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre have conducted a detailed genome analysis and identified genes in Grosmannia clavigera that are responsible for the fungus’s ability to bypass the lodgepole pine’s natural fungicide – and use it as a carbon source for fungal growth.


Genome and transcriptome analyses of the mountain pine beetle-fungal symbiont Grosmannia clavigera, a lodgepole pine pathogen

In western North America, the current outbreak of the mountain pine beetle (MPB) and its microbial associates has destroyed wide areas of lodgepole pine forest, including more than 16 million hectares in British Columbia. Grosmannia clavigera (Gc), a critical component of the outbreak, is a symbiont of the MPB and a pathogen of pine trees. To better understand the interactions between Gc, MPB, and lodgepole pine hosts, we sequenced the ∼30-Mb Gc genome and assembled it into 18 supercontigs. We predict 8,314 protein-coding genes, and support the gene models with proteome, expressed sequence tag, and RNA-seq data. We establish that Gc is heterothallic, and report evidence for repeat-induced point mutation. We report insights, from genome and transcriptome analyses, into how Gc tolerates conifer-defense chemicals, including oleoresin terpenoids, as they colonize a host tree. RNA-seq data indicate that terpenoids induce a substantial antimicrobial stress in Gc, and suggest that the fungus may detoxify these chemicals by using them as a carbon source. Terpenoid treatment strongly activated a ∼100-kb region of the Gc genome that contains a set of genes that may be important for detoxification of these host-defense chemicals. This work is a major step toward understanding the biological interactions between the tripartite MPB/fungus/forest system.


Bark beetle infestation grows in Colorado, Wyoming

Tree-killing bark beetles decimated 550,000 acres of forests in Colorado and Wyoming last year, bringing the total area ravaged by the insects in both states to 4 million acres since 1996, the U.S. Forest Service said on Sunday.

"The significance is that the trajectory is moving north and east into more visible and populated areas," Janelle Smith, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, told Reuters.

Federal and state foresters just released their annual aerial survey of impacted lands across the two Rocky Mountain states. The main culprit is the mountain pine beetle responsible for infesting 400,000 acres in Colorado and southern Wyoming.


2011-01-19

U.S. legal challenge called threat to B.C. forest sector

The United States reignited the softwood lumber dispute Tuesday by launching a legal challenge that targets British Columbia's lumber industry.

The U.S. claims B.C. has been subsidizing lumber companies here by charging minimal stumpage rates for timber damaged by the mountain pine beetle.

The challenge was officially filed Tuesday at the London Court of International Arbitration, the body chosen by both Canada and the U.S. as the final appeal in any dispute over the 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement.

U.S. launches softwood lumber trade complaint over beetle timber

The United States, as expected, has accused Canada of breaking the softwood lumber trade agreement by unfairly lowering the cost of beetle-killed timber in B.C.'s Interior.

U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk said Tuesday the United States has filed for binding arbitration with the London Court of International Arbitration, allowed under the five-year-old trade agreement.

Kirk cited British Columbia's practice of grading beetle-killed timber as salvage, which is priced at 25 cents a cubic metre. The amount of this low-grade timber has increased dramatically, and is not justified, says the U.S.

2011-01-18

U.S. taking Canada to arbitration over softwood

The beetle infestation that has ravaged the dense forests of the B.C. Interior could wind up costing Canada a good deal more – up to a half-billion dollars in penalties to the United States.

The Obama administration opened an aggressive new legal front in the enduring trade fight over lucrative softwood lumber exports, accusing Canada of violating a 2006 deal by allowing British Columbia to sell vast quantities of cut-rate, Crown-owned timber to lumber companies.

“When we believe our trading partners are not living up to their obligations, we will not hesitate to enforce our rights,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.

U.S. and Canada fight over lumber, and beetles

The United States accused Canada on Tuesday of violating a lumber trade deal by under pricing wood from trees killed in a massive insect infestation in British Columbia.

Washington filed the complaint on behalf of U.S. lumber producers who say their Western Canadian rivals are being subsidized though use of the cheap timber, which they say is prohibited under the 2006 trade deal.

The request for binding arbitration to resolve the dispute is the latest flare-up in a quarrel over lumber used for housing construction that has been a thorn between the major trading partners for decades.

B.C. IS ABIDING BY SOFTWOOD LUMBER AGREEMENT

Forests, Mines and Lands Minister Pat Bell responded today to the U.S. government’s filing for arbitration under the U.S.-Canada 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement about British Columbia’s timber pricing policies.

“British Columbia has always honoured and continues to honour its commitments under the softwood lumber agreement,” said Bell. “I am confident the arbitrators will find the same.”

The U.S. complaint is based on the large volumes of mountain pine beetle-attacked timber that have been harvested. British Columbia’s auction-based pricing system ensures that the full value of timber – whether impacted by the unprecedented mountain pine beetle infestation or not – is captured by the government.

U.S. softwood claim denied by Canada

Canada denied an accusation by the United States Trade Office Tuesday accusing British Columbia of illegally subsidizing its softwood lumber producers.

The U.S. said Tuesday it is taking Canada to court over the issue of whether the province is over-playing the impact of pine beetle infestation and selling timber cutting rights at an artificially low rate.

Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan said in a statement the complaint deals with a pricing system that is no longer in place.

2011-01-16

B.C. shares pine beetle lessons with Alberta

Wildfire experts say the pine beetle is making forest fires more dangerous to fight and warn it will worsen as millions of dead trees fall to the ground in B.C. and Alberta.

In recent years, fires have roared through dying and dead pine in the B.C. Interior. The blazes have forced thousands of people from their homes and put fire crews at risk.

Firefighters say the fires in beetle-killed trees burn so hot it's like dealing with a forest of kiln-dried lumber. Crews are often forced to retreat and build containment lines — lighting their own fires to starve the oncoming flames of fuel.

B.C. pine-beetle population 'crashing' in central Interior

The mountain pine beetle population is "crashing" in British Columbia's central Interior, prompting Chief Forester Jim Snetsinger to reduce timber harvests in the Prince George and Quesnel timber supply areas.

The beetle population is on the steep downward side of a bell curve, Snetsinger said in an interview Friday. At the height of the epidemic three to five years ago, billions of beetles had attacked 16.3 million hectares of trees. By March, 2010, beetles had killed the equivalent of 675 million cubic metres of timber, making it one of North America's worst-ever environmental disasters.

"Now it's crashing," Snetsinger said. "The mountain pine beetle population is decreasing. It is still killing trees, but not as many."

B.C. pine beetle kill has peaked: forester

B.C.'s chief forester expects the province's pine beetle infestation to gradually come to an end during the next seven years.

A decade after the infestation started, mountain pine beetles are still attacking pine trees in parks, forests and residential backyards.

But after devouring much of the available forest, most beetles have eaten themselves out of house and home and the infestation has peaked, B.C.'s chief forester said.

2011-01-07

Tolko closes Kelowna veneer plant

Tolko Industries Ltd. announced Friday it is permanently closing its Kelowna veneer operation.

Production at this operation has been curtailed since October, 2009.

Tolko says the decision to close the plant is due to the long term reduced availability of high quality peeler logs, which has been further impacted by the mountain pine beetle infestation.

2011-01-06

Alberta winning battle against beetles thanks to lessons learned in B.C.

The infestation began five summers ago: A thick swarm of mountain pine beetles rode prevailing winds above tree canopies, eastward from British Columbia, to set down for the first time ever in west-central Alberta.

After the insect had irrevocably chewed through B.C.’s forests – the ultimate toll will see one-third of the province’s forests dead, with as many as 20,000 jobs lost – the beetle’s en-masse arrival in Alberta looked like scientists’ worst fears realized. An ugly picture took shape: the spread of one of Canada’s worst-ever environmental catastrophes, a ruined boreal forest, the scourge travelling inexorably eastward toward Ontario.
More related to this story

* Beaten-down forest sector starts to sprout
* B.C. lumber expediency rotting Canada’s fair-play reputation
* Little beetle a big puzzle for Canadian lumber

The finger of Brad Jones, a Forest Health Officer points to a (now) dead male & female Mountain Pine Beetle to show their size in a fallen tree limb. Crew members of the Mountain Pine Beetle crew set a controlled burn to trees in the area that have been infested by the Mountain Pine Beetle. After determining a tree is infested with mountain pine beetle, control crews will fall the tree and cut it into smaller portions to be piled and burned. Mountain pine beetles are attacking the province's pine trees. Left unmanaged, the beetle could devastate Alberta's pine forests and spread eastward across Canada's boreal region.

But in a combination of weather-aided luck, the wisdom of lessons learned in British Columbia and an aggressive $250-million counterattack, Alberta sees the first signs that it is winning the fight to stop the voracious plague. Much is at stake: While the province is known for oil and natural gas, forestry is the No. 3 industry, generating $11-billion annually and 44,000 jobs for the economy. And the spectre of further advance, with untold economic damage across the country, has made Alberta – for now – Canada’s bulwark against the beetle.

2011-01-01

Oregonians say Canadian logs are misclassified, undercutting U.S. mills and jobs

Daniel Webster would instantly recognize the lumber trade dispute erupting once again between the United States and Canada.

The legendary American statesman helped settle the Aroostook Lumber War, an 1842 skirmish in the same conflict. But the treaty he negotiated only briefly interrupted the strife that dates all the way back to 1789, when Congress passed a 5 percent tariff that included Canadian lumber.

This time, the fisticuffs feature a cast of obstinate characters including hard-pressed Oregon mill owners, a renegade Canadian lumber baron and North America's most destructive bark beetle.