The Southern pine beetle, Dendroctonus frontalis, is a destructive pest that can convert forests of pine trees from carbon sinks to potential carbon sources as dead trees increase the risk of forest fires. A 2008 outbreak was estimated to have destroyed half a million acres of pine trees in the southern United States. Climate change is predicted to increase the beetle’s attack on pine trees, as warmer winters could bring larger beetle populations and more generations per year, which could negatively impact the region’s carbon cycle. Researchers hope to gain more information about the beetle by studying its genetics. They know, for example, that the beetle is part of a bark beetle subfamily that includes the vector of Dutch elm disease. They want to compare the Southern pine beetle’s genome with those of other tree-killers such as the mountain pine beetle and the spruce beetle, which together killed some 40 million trees in the Alaskan peninsula over the last 10 years. They also hope to identify the genes involved in key behaviors that ensure the Southern pine beetle’s survival so that they can devise potential strategies for population control.
Principal Investigators: Scott Kelley, San Diego State University
Program: CSP 2009