The spruce budworm is a serious threat to forests in eastern North America. Today, an outbreak is under way in Quebec, and budworm populations are on the rise in New Brunswick. Left unchecked, this native insect poses a significant threat to our forests.
The spruce budworm’s last extensive outbreak in Eastern Canada was in the 1970s and 1980s, damaging more than 50 million hectares, an area larger than Yukon Territory. The good news is that our scientists have been studying the spruce budworm for many decades. This long-term research has led to an Early Intervention Strategy that is showing promising results.
Scientists are working to track the migration of the spruce budworm through DNA markers or barcoding (PDF). Many predators, parasites and pathogens living on the balsam fir, the spruce budworm’s main food source, provide a measure of natural control.
This DNA barcoding is helping scientists identify which organisms living on balsam fir may be harmful to the spruce budworm. Knowing “who is who” and “who eats whom” helps to identify the insect’s natural enemies. It also provides researchers with a better understanding of the consequences of spruce budworm management decisions on other organisms (PDF).
By hunting these herbivores, a team of citizen scientists is helping researchers monitor the budworm across Eastern Canada. These Budworm Trackers use baited traps to collect some of the pests, which are studied by researchers to gain a broader perspective on spruce budworm numbers throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond. The project engages the public in the science and allows them to see first-hand what is happening on their own properties.
Dr. Peter Silk is exploring how spruce budworm sex pheromones may provide another tool in the toolbox in the fight against the pest. Pheromones are chemical compounds emitted by a species that act as messengers within or between species. His team has synthesized pheromones in the lab to use them against the insects by luring them to traps or disrupting mating cycles.
Prevention by Early Intervention
As part of an early intervention strategy, these innovative research projects improve our understanding of how the spruce budworm lives, its ecology, its predators and, how it copes and survives in the forest.
“It’s a strategic approach to budworm management, where areas with rising populations or ‘hot spots’ are treated with approved control products early before an outbreak occurs,” explains Dr. Rob Johns, lead researcher.
In an effort to slow the spruce budworm before further damage occurs to our forests, industry and communities, many forest partners and stakeholders in Eastern Canada have come together as the Healthy Forest Partnership to coordinate this research. This partnership is one strategy for protecting forests from the environmental and economic impacts of a spruce budworm outbreak.