Thousands of broken trees line the banks of the Chattooga River. The dead gray stabs were once evergreen monsters offering shade to trout and picturesque views to visitors. These Eastern hemlocks are dying rapidly, and UGA researchers are working to save them.
One tiny insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid, is to blame. The Asian insect first appeared in the eastern U.S. in Richmond, Va., in the 1950s. In 2003, it crossed the river from South Carolina and started feeding on Georgia trees.
The tiny pests suck up cells from the tree’s needles, which prevent them from transferring water and conducting photosynthesis. The first obvious sign of an infestation is thinning foliage. Needles fall off, and the crown starts thinning. From a distance, trees look gray.
Researchers working to find ways to combat the adelgid have focused on releasing ladybird beetles, which eat adelgids. A new UGA study brings some of the logistical issues to light and offers hope for more successful control in the future. The results were published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.
Previous studies have shown widely released predator beetles, Laricobius nigrinus and Sasajiscymnus tsugae, have been successful in controlling hemlock wooly adelgid populations, but they have not survived well through multiple seasons.
According to this study, adelgid populations tend to be more abundant in the upper crown, especially early in the infestation. This study suggests predator releases should focus in this area where higher densities are more likely. Up to this point, releases have been made in the lower third of the tree crown.
Georgia trees decline faster than those found in northern states due to a lack of winter weather, which kills back adelgid populations in the North.