Experiment by Hwy. 2 hopes to find out
Mountain pine beetle has started making its way into the jackpines of northern Alberta.
But it’s far from clear how susceptible the jackpine is, compared to its mountain cousin the lodgepole pine.
According to a University of Alberta researcher, the lodgepole is the natural target of the beetle, and in recent years it has decimated pine forests in British Columbia.
The devastation has moved over the mountains into Alberta’s lodgepole forests, making a lot people nervous.
“It’s an epidemic in lodgepole,” says Antonia Musso, a PhD student at the U of A.
At some point as you go east, lodgepole gives way to jackpine, and that is the predominant species across much of the rest of northwestern Canada.
Are jackpine more resistant?
Is there something to be learned about that?
An experiment Musso is involved in aims to find out more.
“We’re trying to find out what’s going to happen,” Musso says.
One way to do that is to wait for the feared massive inflights of pine beetles into jackpine areas and see what happens. But that is hard to predict, so the researchers have set up an experiment in a jackpine stand next to Hwy. 2 by the Athabasca River.
Passersby have noticed the wire mesh ‘skirts’ around the base of several trees there over the past few weeks.
What’s less obvious to the passing motorists is that inside each of those skirts are blocks of pine wood cut from other trees.
Those are from infected lodgepole pine trees from the Grande Prairie area.
“We’re trying to find out what’s going to happen (to the jackpine),” Musso says. “We want to be ahead of the game.”
‘We,’ is a multi-agency group, including the governments of Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan (which has big jackpine forests in the north and is getting nervous) as well as the university, among several others.
It’s called TRIA-Net, which stands for ‘Turning Risk Into Action Network.’
Musso says the experiment was due to run for several weeks up to the middle of September.
One complicating factor in the study is the existence of ‘hybrid’ jackpines, which are part lodgepole and part jackpine.
There is a sort of transition zone of these between the pure lodgepole and pure jackpines, and it is believed those hybrids may react differently to the pine beetle than either of the pure species.
Figuring out where the line is requires more research, Musso says.
“I’m having a hard time nailing down where the hybrids are,” she says.
One thing she does know is the pines near the Athabasca bridge are pure jackpines, which is why they were chosen.
“Hopefully it will help us predict what will happen in the future,” she says.