Eastern Hemlocks Face Extinction. One tiny fly could save the Eastern Hemlocks These are their secrets

The woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that lives in the Northeast’s forests, is threatening to decimate them all. Researchers are now calling for hungry silver flies.

This article originally appeared on Grist, and it is part of Climate Desk’s collaboration.

Nicholas Dietschler, a researcher in New York’s Catskill Mountains is standing before an eastern hemlock seedling. It’s June 1, and it’s warm. It is looking a bit gloomy. The lower branches of the evergreen are dead and brittle. The limbs on its upper branches are becoming bald. Dietschler scans the tree for stubby, aching needles. He quickly finds what he is looking for. The spindly branches of the sapling are covered by tiny, woolly white bumps about the size and shape of sesame seeds. Dietschler moves his thumb over the bumps. He holds up an orange-streaked finger and says “Blood.” They’re still alive.

The ground is covered with a blue cooler, which has been filled with perfectly stacked plastic vials. Dietschler looks at the cooler and says “I just signed up for the next five years to work on this.” Dietschler will likely be the last person to see this hemlock, along with many others in the northeastern United States.

The tiny bumps are the egg sacs of a destructive insect called the woolly adelgid, which caught a ride with Japanese goods bound for America in the early 20th century and has been wreaking havoc on the nation’s Eastern forests ever since. Aphid-like insects sucking sap from hemlock branches, decimating trees. They can also reproduce sexually and are all females, making them formidable enemies. The woolly adelgid is being assisted by climate change in their quest to dominate the Northeast’s hemlocks. It has been spreading northward into more colder regions. It’s already rampaged through the southern Appalachian Mountains, leaving a trail of millions of devastated hemlocks on its way north. The adelgid could spread unchecked to the Northeast, and hemlocks may disappear completely.

Survival of an animal species is dependent on its ability to survive, and that outcome may depend on what the blue cooler contains.

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