USU Ecology Center Speaker To Cover Bark Beetles, Symbiotic Fungi

Feb 15, 2021

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What do tree growth, bark beetle fungi, and carbon have in common?

Diana Six is a professor at the University of Montana. Her main focus is bark beetles and symbiotic fungi across the globe. She also studies trees impacted by bark beetles, like the ones here in the American West.

“We've just gone through the biggest outbreak ever known in history and part of that outbreak with warming has meant that the beetle has been able to move up in elevation into trees that it has not been in before,’ Six said. “I'm walking around in these forests that are just dead. You know, you start noticing that they're not all dead. And so I started wondering, well, why did these trees make it?”

Six said tree growth rate may be a surprising factor in what trees survive widespread beetle infestations.

“I should be able to figure out why these trees made it. A lot of people were telling me, you know, it's just by chance, and I'm going no way. We found within a population of these trees, there’s incredible genetic diversity, and the beetles definitely like fast growing trees. That was surprising.” Six said.

Symbiotic fungi living on these beetles is another of Six’s favorite research topics, which she said help feed these beetles and allow them to thrive on nutrient-poor wood.

“It’s sort of their nutritional supplement. Um, everything really kind of comes down to the little tiny stuff that we usually don't pay attention to. So here you have these little tiny microscopic fungi that feed a little tiny beetle that kills millions of acres of forests that drives carbon release. It's a whole cascade,” Six explained.

Six will be speaking virtually about her research on Feb. 17 and 18 at 4 p.m. at the Ecology Center. For more information about how to watch her presentations, visit ecology.usu.edu/seminar-series/recorded-seminars/.