Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Go get 'em silver flies!

We are busy this spring releasing our new biological control agent, the silver fly.

Do you remember that hemlock woolly adelgid has 2 generations each year? Our best predators so far all feed on the fall/winter generation.  So, unless all the adelgid are eaten or die, come spring time a whole new generation emerges to feed and reproduce.  We are hopeful that theses silver flies will put a real hurtin' on that spring generation so we can reduce adelgid levels and relieve the pest pressure on our hemlock trees year round.

A very special thank you to Mr. Darrel Ross at Oregon State University and Mr. Mark Whitmore at Cornell University who have tirelessly worked to collect flies in their native habitat, rear them in the lab, and ship them to us.  As you can see, theses flies are small and fast.  We could not do any of this work without such great cooperators!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Spring means...crawlers

This is the time of year when the progrediens generation of hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) is out in full force crawling out of their white, woolly ovisacs and looking for a place to settle at the base of a nice green hemlock needle.

HWA crawlers on a hemlock twig, photo taken through a hand lens. 

 Can you see them?  They are all lined up trying to find a place to settle in and feed. 

HWA ovisacs and crawlers on hemlock twig, photo taken through a hand lens.

You can see the sheer numbers of HWA our hemlock trees have to deal with.  We are out this week setting up another round of experiments with silver flies,  an adelgid predator that has shown some promise.  Well, we found the buffet, I hope these flies are hungry!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Winter won't wait...

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter officially starts at the same time every year.  In 2017 it was on a Thursday, December 21st, the shortest day of the year.  The Winter Solstice.  And winter has swept into the Southeastern U.S. with some teeth this year. 

Exhibit A...

The first snow of winter came early in December and gave The Carolinas lots of unexpected snow and cold temperatures.
Exhibit B...

Local forecasters did not anticipate this winter storm that caused havoc on New Year's Eve in Asheville, NC.

As these storms and frigid temperatures continue to effect our day to day lives you can take some solace in the fact that hemlock woolly adelgid has it worse than you. 

Snowflakes settle on HWA ovisacs during a blustery morning snow event in Asheville, NC.

Hemlock woolly adelgid does not tolerate temperatures below freezing very well.  The colder our winter gets and the longer it lasts will help our native hemlock trees.  That sure does warm me up...a little...this certainly is hopeful for our beloved hemlock trees.

A target hemlock tree we recently released in the Jefferson NF in VA.

So, be courageous, keep warm, and stay safe through this bitter start to winter. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Searching for Sirex spp.

We are at it again, setting up wood wasp traps as part of a localized survey to detect native siricids and parasitoids.  A wood wasp native to Europe, Sirex noctilio, has been introduced to parts of the U.S.  For now, the non-native species has only been detected in portions of NY, PA, MI, and VT. Our southern pine species would be prime habitat for these critters though, so we are making attempts to detect the insect. 

 A ridgetop outside of Hot Springs, NC that was burned during fires in spring of 2016.

Our "Lincoln log" style wood wasp trap.

We scheduled our first round of cuts to coincide with typical flight times of local Siricids.  Of course we didn't realize we would be experiencing record high temperatures in October, lugging a chainsaw and gear up steep slopes...

 Moving a tree top off of a steep slope to position next to our trap setup.

Wood wasps love dead and dying pine trees, so we selected an area that recently experienced a stand replacing fire.  The challenge was finding live pine trees that aren't already being colonized.  We were able to find white pine, Virginia pine, and Table mountain pine trees in good condition.

Bud labeling and marking one of our traps.

A live Table mountain pine tree in a stand with mostly dead overstory.

We did this detection survey back in 2015/2016 on 2 different sites with white pine.  We did not detect any of the non-native pest (Great!), but we did not get many of the native siricids either.  The traps will sit out in the woods for approximately 9 months. Then, logs from the traps will be moved into rearing cages where we can monitor what comes out.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


In a controlled experiment, as many variables as possible are accounted for, a hypothesis is conceived.  The experiment is carefully planned, laid out, and implemented.

 Aerial view of our hemlock restoration planting field experiment.  Photo credit Rob Nelson.

Weather stations and pendant sensors used at our field sites being prepped for launch.

Take all of that planning and equipment to the field however...

A temperature/RH sensor hides in this radiation shield that was knocked over and wire severed.

 A sensor set-up measuring temperature/RH and soil moisture knocked over and pulled up.

 A weather station pulled completely out of the ground.

A repaired radiation shield stayed put, but the pendant sensor was bitten and cast aside.

A temperature/RH sensor that was pulled apart and chewed.

This damage had occurred over the course of several months and we had our suspicions as to who was responsible.  


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Slinging more Silver flies this spring...

We have been at it again this spring with a new predator of hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA).  This is our third consecutive year releasing silver flies on HWA infested hemlocks.

A hemlock branch with both the fall (sistens) and spring (progrediens) generations of HWA.

You see, one of the more annoying characteristics of HWA is that they can produce two generations of offspring in one year.  A fall, sistens generation and the spring, progrediens generation.  The predator beetles that we are so fond of are only active during the fall, which means the adelgids have an entire season to feed and reproduce without the presence of a predator. 

Well, we aim to end that with the introduction of silver flies! 

Our work thus far is with two different Leucopis spp., argenticollis and piniperda.  Both of these species are native to North America.  The silver flies in the West, where hemlock woolly adelgid have been active for millenia, live on hemlocks and feed on HWA.  The silver flies in the East, where HWA has only been resident for the last 50 some odd years, do not live on hemlocks or feed on HWA. So, we are introducing a Western biotype of a native species in order to eat an exotic invasive pest.

I will spare you the lengthy details on permitting and logistics of such an experiment.  Just know that this involves a whole lot of people at several state and federal agencies making sure all that we do is upright and in-line.  We have an amazing cooperator in the Pacific Northwest rearing flies and sending them to us for our experiment.  The big idea in all of this is to establish biological control agents that are able to eat, harass, harangue, or otherwise subjugate HWA, so our hemlock trees can live long happy lives with only minimal damage from the pesky adelgid.

University of Vermont graduate student Kyle Motley readies branches to receive silver flies.

This years experiment is the largest yet with field sites from South Carolina to New York including Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.  We are hoping for more positive results!

 A sleeve cage is mounted on an infested hemlock branch. 

We are releasing flies into sleeve cages on infested branches at our field sites, then returning at predetermined intervals to collect the samples in order to find out how well flies are feeding and reproducing. 

"Now here we go dropping science, dropping it all over..."
-Beastie Boys from "The Sounds of Science"

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Let there be light!

Yep, the "daylighting" of hemlocks has finally begun!

A big thanks to Kenny Frick and Rusty Rhea with Forest Health Protection for bringing the big saw!

Did you see all that light come through the forest canopy?

Based on what we know from anectodal evidence in the field and research done in a nursery setting we can say that hemlocks in full sun tend to be healthier and have lower levels of adelgid infestation.  So, we are bringing that hypothesis to the big woods and trying out a new experiment.  This study has been on paper for quite a while and we have been scouting sites for the better part of a year. 

Basically, we are selecting relatively healthy hemlock trees of a certain size and "releasing" them to a full-sun environment.  Our experiment will test 2 different techniques along with other variables to see if increased exposure to light can help these trees stand up to HWA infestation. 

More details with better quality video and photos are coming!