Newswise — GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers, who have already seen ambrosia beetles damage part of Florida’s avocado crop, know that more of the species will come from Asia in the next decade. Anticipating their arrival, UF/IFAS researchers set up a hypothetical invasion of the beetle, and found out that loblolly pine owners in the South could lose up to $17 billion in trees in 20 years.
Private companies use loblolly for timber production. Small landowners also harvest and sell some of their loblolly pines, said Andres Susaeta, a research assistant scientist in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation. But small landowners are also interested in aesthetics, preserving the environment and passing the land on to their heirs.
For the study, researchers wanted to look at the economic impact of anticipated invasions of more ambrosia beetles from Asia into the southern United States. Invasive wood borers, such as the ambrosia beetle, transmit disease-carrying fungi to several North American trees, and it’s not clear whether trees such as pines will face similar threats in the future, the researchers said.
Even though the scenarios were hypothetical, Andres Susaeta, a research assistant scientist in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation, said the situation could be all too real.
Ambrosia beetles have already brought the laurel wilt pathogen to 12,000 avocado trees in South Florida, destroying those trees in the process, UF/IFAS researchers say. Furthermore, from 1985 to 2005, at least 27 ambrosia beetle species have established themselves in the U.S., and there are more than 3,500 ambrosia species in the world’s forests, according to the new UF/IFAS study.
For this study, researchers divided their scenarios into control levels: full, partial and no control. Full control means the ambrosia beetle is not present in the U.S. It’s been eradicated, or the probability of infestation is close to zero, Susaeta said. A partial control implies that the new prevention measures have decreased the probability of an ambrosia attack by 30 percent. No control means the landowners have no way of controlling the beetle infesting their trees.
In the UF/IFAS study, the economic losses for forest landowners with no control versus partial control would be around $850 to $1,100 per acre. These estimates, multiplied by the 15.5 million acres of commercial loblolly pine forest in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, show the maximum damage estimate of the ambrosia beetle without control to be $17 billion. With partial control, the maximum damage estimate would be $13 billion. Both dollar damage estimates cover a period of about 20 years.
Currently, loblolly pine landowners can rent their property for $2,150 per acre, but if they take measures and reduce the probability of infestation by 30 percent, they could rent their land for $320 more per acre. If the beetle were completely eradicated, their profitability would go up $3,227 per acre.
The study is published in the Journal of Environmental Management.