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Part 1: Bark beetle just getting started on a continent-wide rampage

A tiny gem of a book -- "The Insatiable Bark Beetle" by Dr. Reese Halter -- tells the story of how unchecked global warming threatens to unleash our native bark beetles on a continent-wide killing spree through some of the oldest and largest forests on earth.

Humanity's unchecked emissions of billions of tonnes of fossil fuel pollution are overheating our forests. The ancient climate stability that has allowed long-lived trees and their complex forest ecosystems to thrive is being shattered. Our new ever-hotter climate is rapidly tipping the balance in favour of predatory tree-killing beetles.

New delicacies being served up range from the awe-inspiring 4,800 year old bristlecone pine trees perched atop California's remote desert peaks to the vast pan-Canadian northern boreal forests. From Arizona to Labrador, the future looks very tasty for forest destroying bark beetles.

For the billions of trees being exposed for the first time to the massive, synchronized, chemical warfare attacks of bark beetles, the future looks grim. If we want to save these magnificent forest ecosystems we will have to leave most of the known reserves of oil, natural gas and coal in the ground.

The short, pocket-sized "Insatiable Bark Beetle" packs a wallop. Dr. Halter spent months reading "a couple thousand scientific papers and several dozen books." Readers will be treated to a rare example of enjoyable general-audience nature writing that manages to weave in cutting-edge science from botany, biology, entomology, ecology and climate science.

But best of all it does what all good books do: it tells a compelling story on a grand stage full of rich characters. In this first article I'll cover the first part of the book where Dr. Halter describes the forest stage and the facinating beetles that are swarming across it.

The forests

 

Dr. Halter, a forest ecologist, sets the stage for this drama:

Earth contains seven naturally occurring biomes…the taiga and the temperate forest biomes provide the setting for the story that I aim to illuminate: the story of the insatiable bark beetle.

Taiga, also known in parts as the northern boreal forest, makes up the largest uninterrupted or contiguous, forested area on the surface of the Earth – the Earth’s emerald crown. ...the taiga contains one-third of all the trees in the world

And the dynamic tension:

All wild forests are teeming with life. They are biological treasure houses … the layers of interdependent life are bewitching.

An incredible balance exists between the characteristics of all components of a forest, from the tiniest insects, to the amount of sunlight, to the various tree species, to water – the lifeblood of the Earth.

His engaging writing goes on to describe the many ways our forests supply critical and widespread services to the global ecosystem and to us. He talks of how they build healthy rich soils; purify our water; control erosion; fill our air with oxygen while removing climate pollution; and build complex stable ecosystems that much of North America's wild plants and animals depend upon.

The tale brims with interesting details, such as: 

… the forest floor in the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island enables Sitka spruce, the tallest trees in Canada to reach over 95 meters. A square meter of the soil here can support 2,000 earthworms, 40,000 insects, 120,000 mites, 120,000,000 nematodes and many millions of protozoa and bacteria. They all “make a living” together … perpetuating the life of the forest."

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Nothing is comparable to the efficient filtration of fresh water that is completed by trillions of tree roots…Big trees can pump over 450 litres of moisture into the atmosphere every 24 hours.

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