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Jake Keithly

English 102

The Effects of Insects and Diseases on Forests

Insects and diseases have always affected forests but not to the extent we are currently
seeing today. We are seeing millions of acres of forests that are completely dead due to many
different species of insects and diseases. This is not part of natures course rather a problem
due in part to humans. Most people think that these insects and diseases should be stopped
completely. But most people dont know much about this problem so it poses the question,
what are the actual affects these insects and diseases are having on forests and are they
positive or negative to the forests health? Insects and disease are in fact very harmful to the
forest because they kill vast amounts of trees and destroy pristine ecosystems, we need to get
control of these insects and diseases because if we dont we will lose our forests and all the
resources they contain.
Forests are very significant in the survival of humans, we not only use the timber for
houses and other manmade objects but forests also provide every living thing with clean air to
breathe by filtering the carbon dioxide then expelling oxygen. Forests also have immense
ecosystems with a vast variety of animals and plants that reside there, some being endangered
such as the spotted owl. Humans use these animals and plants for a source of food, medicine,
and everyday materials such as paper. So it is up to us to keep the forests healthy and thriving
but every day more and more acres of these forests are dying due to insects and diseases.
Some are natural to the area others humans have accidently brought in from foreign forests.
Either way it is up to humans to deal with this problem.

Insects and diseases did not just recently show up in forests, they have been in forests
for as long as forests have existed. But up until the last 100 years they have not been
researched and studied. Humans have had a big impact on the spread of these insects and
diseases due to decades of fire control leading to overly dense forests and from logging
operations damaging trees and making them more susceptible to infestations (Joyce). Humans
also bring foreign insects and diseases into forests by introducing foreign species of plants into
forests or home landscapes, contributing to the widespread problem. Another cause for the
sudden rise in infested timber is global warming. Global warming makes the trees weaker and
therefore less able to defend against insects and diseases. This has been brought on by humans
and is increasing every day making more and more trees become susceptible to insects and
There are many different types of harmful insects and diseases that thrive in forests.
Insects a lot of the time help diseases infect trees by weakening them and making them
vulnerable. The mountain pine beetle also known as the Black Hills beetle or the Rocky
Mountain pine beetle is one of the major killers of trees (Colorado State Forest Service). They
are native to the western forests of North America and prefer several different species of pines.
Another species of beetle is the spruce beetle, like the mountain pine beetle it gets its name
from its preferred trees, spruce trees. This species favors dense forests with a high percentage
of larger diameter spruce (Utah DNR). On average a tree only survives a year after it is infested
by mountain pine beetle or spruce beetle. One of the most widely dispersed and damaging
forest defoliator in western North America is the spruce budworm. This insect tends to attack
spruce and fir trees. The largest outbreak of this insect in Colorado forests was over two million

acres (Colorado State Forest Service). This massive outbreak was only in one state and was
because of only one species of insect, there have been millions more acres destroyed
throughout the forests of the United States due to many different species of insects.
Insects often carry or are followed up by diseases because the insects weaken the trees
making them easier for diseases to infect. One such fungus that is known for this is the blue
stain fungus. This fungus invades conifers generally the trees that have already been attacked
by bark beetles. Blue stain fungus affects the trees by hastening the death of them and it lowers
the value of the timber on the market making them less wanted by timber companies. Specialty
mills sometimes purchase timber that has blue stain fungus because of pattern made by it but it
is still not highly sought after. Dwarf mistletoe is another widespread tree disease. There are
forty-two species of dwarf mistletoe known worldwide (Colorado State Forest Service). This
parasitic disease affects trees by causing abnormal growth and if the infection is long-term it
can kill the tree. It kills the tree by not letting it get the food and water it needs to survive.
Another major disease in forests is armillaria root rot, it is found throughout the world. This
disease attacks the roots of most deciduous and coniferous species. This disease affects trees
by slowing their growth and rotting the roots, in the end killing the tree. These diseases are not
the only ones in the forests but they are a few of the most widespread and damaging species.
Insects and diseases are very harmful in large amounts but not necessarily in small
amounts. These both have killed millions of acres in western North America. A recent survey
conducted in the forests of Colorado concluded that mountain pine beetles alone have infested
nearly 3.4 million acres since the start of the outbreak in 1996 (Colorado State Forest Service).

This shows how fast this problem is growing and how large scale it is. The areas of forest that
have been attacked by these insects and diseases become huge dead patches of forest. This
affects humans by lowering the value of its timber and in some cases becoming unsuitable to
be made into lumber. The more important affect is on the ecosystem of the forest. These vast
patches of dead forest become great areas for big wildfires to start and grow rapidly. Fires are
both bad and good for the ecosystem depending on the case. Fires destroy large amounts of
feeding grounds for animals and make the water undrinkable for a while. Thus destroying an
ecosystem, yet at the same time it gives the forest a rebirth. The fire replenishes the soil with
nutrients and trees grow back disease free and healthy bringing the animals back into the
ecosystem. If the infected part of the forest does not have a wildfire go through it or it isnt
harvested by timber companies, the species of plants growing there will change. After the trees
are infected and die they lose their foliage and instead of shading the plants below they let the
sun hit the plants directly. On an annual basis, insects severely defoliate more than 20 million
acres of forested land in the conterminous United States, affecting a larger area and incurring
higher economic costs than any other disturbance (Townsend). This creates the problem of
other species of plants that thrive in the sun to start growing there and overtake the native
species, sometimes destroying the feeding grounds of grazing animals. Forests also filter a large
amount of the earths air, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Trees cannot do this unless
they are alive and healthy and the more insects and diseases spread and kill trees the less there
are to filter carbon dioxide.
Small areas of infested forest are good for the ecosystem. Insects and diseases in low
amounts actually help renew forests by removing old or otherwise susceptible trees, recycling

nutrients and providing new habitat and food for wildlife (NRCAN). After the trees die many
become softer which allows for many species of animals to make dens and nests in the trunks.
Some 85 species of North American birds excavate nesting holes, use cavities resulting from
decay (natural cavities), or use holes created by other species in dead or deteriorating trees
(Scott). This includes some endangered species such as the Spotted Owl which relies on dead
trees that have cavities on the trunk. Birds also help control the insect population in the forest
which helps prevent them from becoming too large in numbers. Other animals such as squirrels
use the dead trees to create dens also. Not only do these dead patches of forest create a good
habitat for animals but they also allow for the growth of new healthy trees since the old ones
are not alive anymore to take all the water and sunlight. In controlled amounts insects and
diseases can be helpful in keeping a healthy forest but in great numbers they can cause
widespread destruction.
There are currently many different solutions that are being used in the forests to control
and prevent many different species of insects and diseases from spreading. Researchers at the
Rocky Mountain Research Station found that beetle survival was drastically reduced when
attacked trees were felled, cut into 4-foot logs, and exposed to the sun (Joyce). This technique
could only be used on the smaller more manageable areas due to the amount of manpower
needed. Another solution that would control insects and diseases would be chemicals. This
would only be worthwhile in stands where the fungus is not already well established, and there
is a significant hazard of its establishment (Worrall). The problem with this method is that
many people oppose the use of chemicals because it is believed by them that it pollutes the
environment. Silvicultural control has greatly reduced the incidence of many diseases, at

virtually no cost since the new systems of silviculture adopted were good ones aside from
having pathologic benefits (FAO). Silviculture is what foresters do in order to control the
growth and quality of forests. This involves thinning which decreases the density of the forest
and helps prevent the spread of diseases and insects. All of these solutions work to control and
prevent the large scale outbreaks of insects and diseases and keep the forest healthy. It may
not be clear which one of these solutions is the most effective but it is clear that we must step
in to help the forest fight these insects and diseases or there may not be healthy forests in the
Everyday more and more acres of forests are dying due to insects and diseases of many
different species. Millions of acres so far have been destroyed, losing countless trees that help
keep the air we breathe clean. Wildfires have been increasing in size each year destroying
towns and timber. These insects and diseases are out of control and a solution to this problem
must be put into effect in order for us humans to continue using the resources forests provide
us with and for animals to continue living in their natural ecosystems.

"Common Forest Insects & Diseases." Colorado State Forest Service. N.p.. Web. 29 Mar
2013. <>.
"Dwarf Mistletoe." Colorado State Forest Service. N.p.. Web. 26 Mar 2013.
"FAO/IUFRO symposium on forest diseases and insects."Unasylva. 1965: n. page. Print.

Joyce, Linda. "Mountain Pine Beetle." Sustaining Alpine and Forest Ecosystems. N.p..
Web. 29 Mar 2013. <>.
"Mountain Pine Beetle." Colorado State Forest Service. N.p.. Web. 26 Mar 2013.
NRCAN, . "Insects and Diseases." Natural Resources Canada. N.p., 15 Jan 2013. Web. 10
Apr 2013. <>.
"Spruce Beetle A bark beetle affecting Engelmann spruce." Utah DNR. N.p.. Web. 26
Mar 2013. <>.
Scott, Virgil. United States. Department of Agriculture.Cavity-Nesting Birds of North
American Forests. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977. Print.
Townsend, Philip. "Effects of Insect Defoliation on Regional Carbon Dynamics of
Forests."Northern Research Station. United States Department of Agriculture, 28 Sept 2009.
Web. 10 Apr 2013.
Worrall, Jim. "Root Diseases." Forest and Shade Tree Pathology. N.p., 11 Feb. 2012.
Web. 24 Mar 2013. <