As tree after tree is felled by the ongoing invasion of the emerald ash borer, more is becoming known about the impacts on the surrounding ecosystem.
As it turns out, there are many.
“The effects will go far beyond what you see on a hike or how you feel about the loss of a tree on your property,” The New York Times said in a recent report. “They will ripple through forest ecosystems, affecting other plants, animals and water supplies.”
Ash borers, an Asian invader, were first noticed on Turtle Island in 2002 in Windsor, Ontario, The New York Times noted. However it had probably been here for decades, and now hope is fading for eradication.
“Ninety-nine percent of the ashes in North America are probably going to die,” U.S. Forest Service research entomologist Andrew M. Liebhold told the newspaper.
The danger changes among the four ash tree species, with black ash and green ash the worst off, and blue and white ash faring a bit better—the borers kill 60 to 70 percent of blue ash trees and slightly more among white ash, The New York Times reported, citing Forest Service research ecologist Kathleen Knight. Before the scourge, there were eight billion trees.
"Still, the losses are bound to have severe consequences," the newspaper said. "When ash trees die, they leave gaps in the leaf canopy that allow sunlight to reach parts of the forest floor that were previously shaded. Dr. Knight, of the Forest Service, has found that those gaps provide an opportunity for invasive honeysuckle bushes to grow unchecked."
This creates dense shrubbery on the forest floor.
“In the worst-case scenario, it becomes a dense, impenetrable thicket of shrubs in the understory,” Knight told The Times.
The beetles’ proliferation is especially troubling to the St. Regis Mohawk, who rely on the black ash tree for their livelihood in making baskets and other products. Known for its basketry and other artisan work that is derived from the black ash’s bark and wood, the tribe in 2011 received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEH) to both help combat the insect and preserve records of the basket-making craft.
The trees’ bark is the substance of baskets whose sales help sustain the tribe, and the wood is used to make other objects whose workmanship is fine enough to have earned it spots in museums and collections, including the Smithsonian.
Several regions have joined forces to try and hold the invasion in check. The Emerald Ash Borer website is one facet of a multinational effort in Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ontario and Quebec to bring you the latest information about emerald ash borer.
Read the full After the Trees Disappear: Ash Forests After Emerald Ash Borers Destroy Them in The New York Times.