Article 63 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 2

Hi, and welcome to Taiga Bonzai, in this post we continue our journey trying to make sense of mankind’s actions both past and present and the consequences that have happened and those that will inevitably occur at some future juncture; it is not a question of if – it is a question of when.

Introduction – In part 1. of this series we discussed the appearance of bacteria, microorganisms and plant life, the dinosaur era to early mankind, trade via the silk road, pests and disease, the Justinian plague, rules and restrictions. In this article we reveal some of the effects of mankind’s blunderous decisions.

The Microbe – as we have stated science has told us that microorganisms can exist in a single-cell form or a colony like bacteria and fungi and although they are often associated with dirt and disease, most microbes are beneficial. But as we are aware there exist those microbes, fungi and pathogens that have lethal potential as the inhabitants of Guanahaní (San Salvador) found to their cost courtesy of Christopher Columbus and his entourage when they arrived there on 12th of October 1492; the result human infectious diseases, mayhem and death. Evidence shows that mankind has shaped the world in his own volition, but in reality the outcome is questionable.

The stowaways – another example of man’s irresponsible behaviour – on December 7th 1941 at 7:55 a.m. (Hawaii time) the Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto attacked the American naval base at Pearl harbour and according to Gill, G. Hermon (Royal Australian Navy 1939–1942. ‘Australia in the War of 1939–1945’. Series 2) “Over the course of seven hours there were coordinated attacks on the U.S. held Philippines, Guam and Wake islands and on the British territories in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong.” This prompted the Americans and British to step up military armament production as further confrontation on the territories of Australia and New Zealand was deemed imminent.

As armament production increased it was packed in wooden crates and transported to the docks where it stayed prior to being loaded on to transport ships, during this inactive period many insect species entered the crates possibly to find shelter; once the crates reached their destinations and were unloaded the insects were free to wander. In 1945, the first wasp Vespula germanica endemic to the Northern Hemisphere was discovered at an air force base near Hamilton in New Zealand; it has been suggested that a hibernating queen had arrived in a crate containing aircraft parts from Europe.

Vespula germanica

V. germanica was also found in Tasmania in 1959 and by 1978 had crossed the Tasman Sea and entered Australia, now countless colonies are common place in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia. V. germanica nest in cavities that include holes in the ground, spaces under homes, wall crevices, eaves and rafters. This predator having no known enemies attacks bee hives, a major problem for the Australian and New Zealand honey industry and if provoked will attack all including humans with devastating results.

According to Elle Hunt in her article for ‘The Guardian’ (Jan 17th 2017) analysis shows that “Australia’s bees and wasps revealed to be as dangerous as its snakes, more than half of deaths from bites and stings between 2000 and 2013 were the result of anaphylactic shock.” Was the introduction of V.germanica to Australia and New Zealand a simple mistake or a blatant error of judgement? Whatever the arguments the consequences are dire these two countries have a major problem on their hands. Similarly much can be said of other nations whom transport their merchandise around the globe with the same complacent attitude.

The invaders – Borers are perhaps the most harmful to trees, The Asian Longhorned beetle Anoplophora glabripennis native to eastern China, and Korea has been introduced into the United States, where it was first discovered in 1996, and in Canada and several countries in Europe including, Austria, France, Germany, Italy and UK. This beetle is believed to have been spread from Asia in solid wood packaging material. A. glabripennis primarily infest maple, poplar, willow, and elm trees. In the United States it has attacked birch, katsura, ash, planes and Sorbus; In Canada on maple, birch, poplar and willow and in Europe on maple, alder, birch, hornbeam, beech, ash, planes, poplar, Prunus, willow and Sorbus.

The Bronze Birch borer Agrilus anxius is a wood-boring Buprestid beetle native to North America numerous in warmer parts of the continent where it thrives. It is a serious pest on birch trees Betula frequently killing them and if this insect came to Europe there would be no hope for Birch forests as the trees have no resistance against this species of insect; hence the effect on Scandinavia’s Birch industry would be catastrophic.

The Bronze Birch borer

The Emerald Ash Borer Agrilus planipennis, a devastating alien pest of ash trees was first detected in Europe in Moscow in 2003. Its outbreak in the cities of European Russia seriously damaged plantations of Ash trees Fraxinus pennsylvanica introduced from North America. This alien pest posing a major threat to ash trees all over Europe has spread to Ukraine and the south of European Russia and severely damages the green ash F. pennsylvanica; research indicates that will appear in other European countries soon with the potential to destroy F. pennsylvanica plantations.

Emerald Ash borer

The Chinese emerald ash borer found its way to America via international shipping, when it gained its freedom it was greeted with a fresh new smorgasbord of North American ash trees Fraxinus americana, thus making itself a new home in which to reside. To date the amount of devastation to millions of ash trees is now in the tens of millions across 25 states.

Airborne invasion – We know that many pests and disease have migrated throughout the world by conventional methods, in the packaging containing merchandise and sometimes in the merchandise itself; mainly via land sea and air. However, these modes of transportation is not the only way for pests and disease to migrate to other realms. There are those whom are able to take to the wing and reach altitudes of 2,000m some actually fly, whilst other drift on the air currents. For example, the Desert Locust Schistocerca gregaria a periodically swarming, short-horned grasshopper from Africa destroys thousands of hectares of crops on its migration eastwards, these pests can easily reach and altitude of 2,000m and cover a distance of up to 200 km in a single day.

Those that tend to drift on the air currents and travel vast distances include pathogens that are microscopic, the average size of most bacteria is between 0.2 and 2.0 micrometer, (diameter) – fungal spores typically range in size from 2 to 50 μm in diameter, with most allergenic spores in the respirable size range of 3 to 10 μm. Such pathogens when earthbound are able to create their own colonies if conditions allow and can attack vulnerable vegetation including food crops, flowering/fruiting plants and trees; at this juncture methods of control are inadequate. The old adage that ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is meaningful, but the devastation of ‘unseen enemies’ only becomes visible when it is too late to react.

Sirex noctilio

Sirex woodwasp (Sirex noctilio) a species of horntail native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa is an invasive species in other realms including Australia, New Zealand, North and South America and South Africa where it has become a significant economic pest of pine trees especially Pinus radiata. The wasp can attack a wide variety of pine species, although some species seem to be more susceptible than others and stressed trees often are attacked. It is believed that this insect was introduced on unprocessed pine logs imported from Europe.

P. radiata were first planted in the late nineteenth century in Australia, Chile, New Zealand and in South Africa during the early 1900’s, their excellent growth provided the basis for thriving lumber and paper industries. During 1920’s and 30’s the lumber industry stagnated because the demand for small logs from thinning operations decreased, hence thinning ceased which made plantations susceptible to S. noctilio and its associated fungus, Amylostereum areolatum. By 1947, high levels of tree mortality were occurring, primarily in the un-thinned plantations causing devastation to the lumber and paper industries.

Adult sirex woodwasps vary in size from 9 to 36 mm (0.35 to 1.42 in), during oviposition the female will lays 2 eggs often with a mucoid substance and a symbiotic fungus to feed on once hatched. This mucoid substance is toxic to trees as are the ascospores from symbiotic fungus Amylostereum areolatum a species of crust fungus originally called Thelephora areolata, it was given its current name by French mycologist Jacques Boidin in 1958.

The hidden menace – Dutch elm disease (DED) first appeared in the north-west of Europe about 1910 and between 1914 and 1919, several Dutch scientists carried out influential research on the cause of the disease. According to https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk this disease “Is one of the most serious tree diseases in the world.” The fungus that causes the disease is spread by bark beetles triggering foliage and tip dieback in all of Britain’s native elms: English elm Ulmus procera, smooth-leaved elm U. carpinifolia and wych elm U. glabra. The disease first spread to Britain in the 1920s, where it killed 10-40% of elm trees. Although the initial epidemic died down, a more aggressive species of Dutch elm disease fungus was accidentally introduced into Britain in the 1960s.

Hylurgopinus rufipes Scolytus schevyrewi Scolytus multistriatus

A second epidemic took hold of lowland central and southern Britain where there were English elms in the early to mid-1970s and by 1980, most mature English elms had died. Scattered pockets of mature elm occasionally survived where the geographic situation has facilitated an effective and continuing sanitation control programme. By the late 1980s the bark beetles used up most of the mature elms that they relied on for breeding material, so beetle populations declined and the disease virtually disappeared from many southern and south-western areas.

In 1982, Forestry Commission research on the biology of Ophiostoma novo-ulmi, an extremely virulent species from Japan has devastated elms in Europe, North America, Asia and now is spreading across across Eastern Europe. (Romania to Poland) This suggested that the disease would not decline in intensity or contrast to the first epidemic, caused by O. ulmi. The new pathogen, O. novo-ulmi, would return in a continuing cycle to attack the following generation of small elms once they were large enough to support beetle breeding.

Cryphonectria parasitica a pathogenic fungus a member of the Ascomycota (sac fungi) native to East Asia and south-east Asia was introduced into Europe and North America in the early 1900s spreading rapidly causing significant tree loss in both regions. This disease came to be known as ‘chestnut blight’ due its infestation of Chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) and has had a devastating economic and social impact on communities in the eastern United States. Once a tree begins to decline it is often dead within a few years and eradication efforts by cutting and burning the infected plants/trees have mostly failed; at this present juncture there are no chemical management options for control.

Chestnut Harvesting

Thus far the consequences of mankind’s actions over the millenia do not paint a good picture, in fact the problems we have tried to solve many of which we cannot are only increasing at an alarming rate. As stated there are no chemical management options for control, should we concentrate our efforts to find more potent solutions to eradicate pests and disease; we have already tried this approach see article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’. In part 3 of this series we continue the journey uncovering more catastrophic failures, until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 62 – ‘Unseen enemies’ Part 1

Hi, and welcome to Taiga Bonzai in article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ we discussed a topic that was hot news to many horticulturists and conservationists at the time re: the continuing decline in insect population that is causing great concern as they are vital to our survival.

Introduction – this 4 part series ‘Unseen enemies’ discusses an even bigger issue – the increasing problem of pests and disease that is devastating the world’s tree and crop plantations and the ultimate effect on society. How this phenomenon occurred is the result of mankind’s actions. Since the dawn of time these actions have caused catastrophic consequences in many ways, now the world is facing unprecedented challenges that will be extremely difficult to resolve. Have we reached the point of no return – some believe that we have past it whilst others are more complacent, ‘yes these situations need to be addressed but they can be resolved’; but can they?

During our travels around the globe we have been privy to some extraordinary and amazing locations, returning to them at a later date we note that many have been destroyed – piles of rubble, barren land, some are now heavily polluted – rife with pestilence and disease. Such experiences do not wane, they remain strong and clear in the mind. How have we arrived at this juncture, follow our journey as we try to shed some light on the issue.

The beginning – according to scientific research vegetation had evolved on Earth approximately 700 million years ago and fungi and bacteria approximately 1,300 million years prior, this evidence is based on the earliest fossils of those organisms. The general consensus is that organisms also called microbes are beneficial for example, they keep nature clean by helping break down dead plants and animals into organic matter.

However, in the dinosaur periods Triassic (251.902 to 201.3 million years), Jurassic (201.3 to 145 million years) and Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) we know creatures that roamed the planet were predominantly herbivores; but not all. Carnivores also existed and confrontation between the two resulted in carnage on an immeasurable scale. All animal and vegetable life whilst decaying gives off a rank fetid odour attracting bacteria and pathogens to take hold and multiply and thus eventually spread and infect. Fortunately early hominins had yet to evolve hence were oblivious of the problems of that time.

Paleolithic Age

Mankind’s contribution – the Hunter-gatherer culture developed among the early hominins of Africa, with evidence of their activities dating as far back as 2 million years and according to Richard B. Lee & Richard Daly of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers “was humanity’s first and most successful adaptation, occupying at least 90 percent of human history“. In addition, it is understood that through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, linguistics and the advent of writing from primary and secondary sources this information is relatively common knowledge.

Colin Tudge in his book ‘Neanderthals, Bandits and Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began’. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (1998) contends that.”The Neolithic saw the Agricultural Revolution begin between 10,000 and 5000 BC in the Near East Fertile Crescent” (Mesopotamia). During this period humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals and as agriculture advanced, many humans transitioned from nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. The relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.

However, Alina Polianskaya of Inews.co.uk (March 15th 2018) points out that “Early humans may have been trading with each other much earlier than previously thought, scientists excavated ancient artefacts at Middle Stone Age sites dating back 300,000 years at the Olorgesailie Basin, in southern Kenya. They uncovered weapons made of materials that could not be found there, suggesting hominins at the time may have exchanged goods with others.”

In his paper ‘Evolution: What Makes a Modern Human’ Nature. 485 (7396) (2012) Chris Stringer tells us that “Modern humans spread rapidly from Africa into the frost-free zones of Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago.” This notion is supported by Adam Hart-Davis in his work ‘History: The Definitive Visual Guide’. New York: DK Publishing “The rapid expansion of humankind to North America and Oceania took place at the climax of the most recent ice age. At the time, temperate regions of today were extremely inhospitable. Yet, by the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, humans had colonised nearly all ice-free parts of the globe“.

The Silk Road – a network of trade routes connecting China and Far East with the Middle East and Europe, was established when the Han Dynasty in China officially opened trade with the West in 130 BC. Although these Silk Road routes were protected from exterior forces by the Han and other countries under signed treaties, ‘unseen enemies’ (pests and disease) also travelled with the traders causing infection, sickness and often death, because those who came into contact with these infectious bacteria had no immunity for example. In 541 to 549 AD the Justinian plague recorded by the Greek historian Procopius court historian to Justin 1st. (r. 527–565) was the first major outbreak of the first plague pandemic.

Emperor Justin 1st

The plague Yersinia pestis is a gram-negative rod-shaped, coccobacillus bacteria that is related to both Y. pseudotuberculosis and Y. enterocolitica. It is a facultative anaerobic organism that can infect humans via the oriental rat flea. Y. pestis was discovered in 1894 by Alexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French physician and bacteriologist from the Pasteur Institute. Strains of Y. pestis closely related to the ancestor of the Justinian plague strain have been found in the Tian Shan, a mountain range on the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China, suggesting that the Justinian plague originated in or near that region. It is estimate in some quarters that the Justinian plague killed between 30 and 50 million people – about half the world’s population at that time and that was just the beginning of what was yet to come.

Alexandre Yersin

The Silk Road routes remained in use until 1453 AD, when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed them. It has been nearly 600 years since the Silk Road was used for international trade, but the routes have had a lasting impact on commerce, culture and history that resonates today and now they are being reopened. Today international trade is arguably the most important factor in the modern world as nations rely on others to supply the many types of commerce they need, hence agreements are signed to lessen the bureaucracy. Nonetheless, international trade does bring problems as we shall find out in this series.

Some countries enforce stringent rules on imports for example, Australia probably has the strictest regulations on what is imported, meat products, fruit and plant material including seeds from many countries including Asia and Middle East are prohibited, but some are permitted if the exporter is registered and has the required documentation. Unlike the rest of the world Australia (although having its own disease problems) is free of many other known diseases and has been since 1872, due to stringent pre and post-border measures; meanwhile the rest of the world continues to battle with disease containment.

Today much has changed we have advanced – science and technical horticultural knowledge has allowed us to become adept in food production; new plant species have been introduced, more variety and apparently more taste – but have we gone too far? -The reason why this question is asked is because for every action there is a reaction often resulting in irreversible consequences.

In part 2 of ‘unseen enemies’ we continue our journey giving more factual information on for example, how pests and disease endemic to a particular part of the world are now commonplace in many other regions; the result of man’s actions and the devastating outcome. Until next time, BW, Nik.