Predator beetle successfully reducing adelgid populations in Smokies

From the Charlotte Observer

The granddaddy trees of North Carolina’s mountains are skeletons on many slopes.

Hemlocks that might have lived for 800 years can die in as few as five, victims of tiny, sap-sucking bugs.

Gray hemlock stands pock the Great Smoky Mountains, the most-visited national park, where 80 percent of the oldest trees are dead. More than half of North Carolina’s forest hemlocks have died in the past 15 years.

But there’s hope amid the devastation.

The beetle Laricobius nigrinus, a native of the Pacific Northwest known as Lari, feasts on the aphid-like insects called hemlock woolly adelgids. Lari’s proving ground is Grandfather Golf & Country Club in Linville.

The 14,000 beetles released there since 2008 have replaced the chemicals once used to control the adelgid. Eighty-five percent to 90 percent of the club’s hemlocks have survived, and many have put on growth spurts.

“We’re back to the point where we were before the adelgid hit,” said golf course superintendent Pete Gerdon. “We bring people in now, who know about this problem, who are stunned” by the rebound.

The beetle has scored similar, if less dramatic, success across Western North Carolina. Adelgid experts are more optimistic about the trees’ survival than they were just a few years ago, when infestations peaked.

Lari’s arrival in the North Carolina high country was the work of Gerdon’s friend Richard McDonald, a Watauga County entomologist who set out to save the hemlocks.
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