Friday, August 9, 2013

Study: woodpeckers are eating ash borers

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2013 at 1:10 PM

The emerald ash borer has devastated ash tree populations in some states and is expected to do some serious damage in other areas. Part of the reason is because, as as invasive, non-native insect, it lacks predators.

But apparently, woodpeckers have developed a taste for the ash borer, according to a new study -- "Effects of the emerald ash borer invasion on four species of birds" -- from researchers working through the U.S. Forest Service.

Emerald ash borer was first detected in the United States in an area near Detroit. A press release on the study says that researchers looked at three woodpecker species that are known to forage on ash borer-infested trees: downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, and red-bellied woodpecker. They also looked at the white-breasted nuthatch, which looks for food under tree bark and is a potential ash borer predator.

Researchers found that populations for all four species generally increased in the study area, which covered the epicenter of the Detroit-area ash borer invasion. They ruled out immigration as a cause for the population growth and concluded that increased survival and/or breeding was likely responsible. 

The news is hardly a cure for the plague that is the emerald ash borer. But it does show that in one case, local birds do feed on the beetle and appear to be benefiting from it as a food source. The study also says, however, that while infestations will have an impact on bird communities, the actual effects will be tough to predict.

Monroe County has had several confirmed emerald ash borer infestations. And for the record, it's also within the year-round range of all four of the birds in the study.

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