The Beetles are Coming
Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. on CBC-TV
Network Day Times
CBC-TV Thursday 8 PM
CBC-TV Sunday 11 AM
CBC News Network Saturday 11 PM ET
About the Episode
Behind the scenes using an octocopter to shoot footage of the forest.
Summer 2006: Peter Jackson, a meteorologist in Prince George B.C., couldn’t believe what he was seeing on his radar screen. It was like a rainstorm, but thicker, and it was crossing east over the Rocky Mountains. It looked a little like insect swarms, except insects had never been seen at such high altitudes before. Farmers on the eastern slope of the Rockies described huge clouds of insects. They could hear them pinging off their steel roofs. The swarms were so dense they gummed up the windshield wipers on the farmers’ vehicles.
This was this first attack of the Mountain Pine Beetle east of the Rocky Mountains… the year when the unthinkable actually happened: carried along by the prevailing winds, trillions of Mountain Pine Beetles crossed the Rocky Mountains from BC into Alberta. Now, the great Northern Boreal Forest, one of the world’s richest ecosystems and one of its greatest carbon sinks, was face to face with a grave threat – a plague of insects, each the size of a grain of rice.
A creature the size of a grain of rice is moving eastwards, destroying Canada’s forests
Photo: J Mitton
In British Columbia, the damage done by this hungry little creature was already well known. In the interior of B.C. people called it ‘The Lodgepole Tsunami.’ In a period of less than 10 years, swarms of Mountain Pine Beetles ate their way through 18 million hectares of Lodgepole Pine forest, an area the size of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combined. The ecological and economic cost has been staggering.
But the Mountain Pine Beetle is NOT an invasive species. It has lived with and co-evolved with the Lodgepole Pine for millennia. Like natural forest fires, the pine beetle is a critical actor in the natural cycle of forest regeneration. Every 25 years or so, in a period of warm winters and warm, dry summers, the beetle’s population would spike. Then they would attack, taking out over-mature trees, thus thinning the canopy to make way for younger tree growth. These outbreaks would last a year or two, then the normal weather patterns would prevail and an early cold snap or a stretch of cold winter weather would bring the population back under control.
Signs of the beetle devastation in British Columbia
Photo: J Mitton
But, in this outbreak, the beetle population in BC grew massively for a decade, and devastated the province’s forests. So what was it that unleashed this terrible force of nature? The culprit is climate change. In its natural range, there is no longer the cold weather brake that has kept the Beetle’s population under control. Now that the population has exploded, there’s no telling where it will stop. For the first time, the eastward march across Canada of this seemingly unstoppable beetle invasion is now perceived as inevitable, especially since the beetle has no natural enemies, nor has man found any way to kill it.
The pine dominant Northern Boreal Forest, stretching all the way to the Atlantic, is now under threat, with ominous ramifications for our travel and tourism, as well as our forestry industries. Without our pine forests, long a symbol of the Canadian landscape and identity, the result will be a Canada we no longer recognize.
The Beetles are Coming takes the viewer on a rich, up close and personal journey into the world of the Mountain Pine Beetle, and uncovers the science behind this ecological disaster. The story of this remarkable little creature the size of a grain of rice that will destroy the pine forests of North America epitomizes the cause and effect of how climate change can upset the balance of nature with unpredictable, unimaginable, devastati
Mar. 21, 2013 — Warm nights might be more important than hot days in determining how species respond to climate change. “Rising minimum temperatures may be the best way to predict how climate change will affect an ecosystem,” said Robert Warren, assistant professor of biology at SUNY Buffalo State. “Cold extremes that once limited warm-adapted species will disappear in a warming global climate.”
As they migrate, A. rudis–a reddish ant with light-colored legs — displace Aphaenogaster picea, a dark ant with dark legs. A. picea thrive at temperatures about 2ºC colder than A. rudis can tolerate. Aphaenogaster ants are the dominant woodland seed dispersers in eastern forests. “So it’s possible that the displacement of A. picea may affect the spread of seeds produced by early spring ephemerals,” said Warren.
By comparing data collected in 1974 to current data, Warren and his team were able to compare the percentage of A. rudis and A. picea at different elevations in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in Georgia. In 1974, A. rudis accounted for less than 60 percent of the two species at 500 meters and less than 20 percent at 700 meters. At 900 meters (nearly 3,000 feet), A. rudis were almost nonexistent.
From 1974 to 2012, regional mean and maximum temperatures remained steady, but the minimum temperature increased by about two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). In 2012, A. rudis approached 90 percent at 500 meters, nearly 60 percent at 700 meters, and more than 20 percent at 900 meters.
“As climate change occurs, we expect species to migrate,” said Warren. “However, we need evidence to establish that climate change caused that movement.”
To obtain that evidence, Warren’s team collected a total of 755 ants from 191 colonies. In the lab, researchers subjected the ants to thermal tolerance tests. Loss of righting response was used to indicate intolerance to low and high temperatures.
“Both species tolerated high maximum temperatures,” said Warren, “but A. rudis can tolerate a higher minimum temperature than A. picea.” (The cold-tolerant A. picea are viable as long as minimum temperature is at least -0.5º C; A. rudis requires a minimum temperature of 2.0º C.)
As the minimum temperature rises, the warm-tolerant A. rudis can migrate to higher elevations, displacing A. picea. “This suggests that rising temperatures may not necessarily kill or stress species directly,” said Warren. “Instead, it might be that higher minimum temperatures allow warm-adapted species to outcompete cold-adapted species.”
Because A. picea break dormancy at cooler temperatures than A. rudis, they become active earlier in the spring when certain forest ephemerals such as Erythronium americanum (trout lilies) bloom. The absence of A. picea may affect the spread of seeds produced by early-flowering woodland plants.
Warren said, “What seems like a small difference–just two degrees–is having a big impact.”
Exxon cleans up Arkansas oil spill; Keystone plan assailed
March 30, 2013. REUTERS-Rick McFarland-Arkansas Democrat-Gazette-Handout
Sun Mar 31, 2013 11:27am EDT
(Reuters) – Exxon Mobil on Sunday continued cleanup of a pipeline spill that loosed thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude in Arkansas as opponents of oil sands development latched on to the incident to attack plans to build the Keystone XL line.
Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from Pakota, Illinois to Nederland, Texas, was shut after the leak was discovered late Friday afternoon in a subdivision near the town of Mayflower. The leak forced the evacuation of 22 homes.
The company did not have an estimate for the restarting of the pipeline, which was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude at the time of the leak. An oil spill of more than 1,000 barrels into a Wisconsin field from an Enbridge pipeline last summer kept that line shuttered for around 11 days.
The Arkansas spill drew fast reaction from opponents of the 800,000 bpd Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry heavy crude from Canada’s tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast refining center.
Environmentalists have expressed concerns about the impact of developing the oil sands and say the crude is more corrosive to pipelines than conventional oil. On Wednesday, a train carrying Canadian crude derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil.
“Whether it’s the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, or … (the) mess in Arkansas, Americans are realizing that transporting large amounts of this corrosive and polluting fuel is a bad deal for American taxpayers and for our environment,” said Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Supporters of Keystone XL and oil sands development say the vast Canadian reserves can help drive down fuel costs in the United States. A report from the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, put together by oil and gas consultancy Penspen, argued diluted bitumen is no more corrosive than other heavy crude.
Exxon said that by 3 a.m. Saturday there was no additional oil spilling from the pipeline and that trucks had been brought in to assist with the cleanup. Images from local media showed crude oil snaking along a suburban street.
Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were deployed to the scene.
“Cleanup efforts are progressing 24 hours a day,” said Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers, who added the oil had not leaked into nearby Lake Conway.
“We were very fortunate that the local responders made sure the oil did not enter the water.”
(Reporting by Matthew Robinson in New York and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)