Empire of the Beetle – Book Review

Empire of the beetle book cover

Empire of the Beetle

How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests

Published by Greystone Books, 2011

Reviewed by Matt Johnson – December 3rd, 2012.

Some books are so good, they make me wonder why I’m trying to write my own popular tree care articles.  If there is an action packed arborist book, Empire of the Beetle by Andrew Nikiforuk, is it.  I’m only through the first chapter and already the spruce beetle has decimated the boreal forest in Alaska and the Yukon.  Lives are lost, communities uprooted but the mystery remains. (editor notes – I finished the book , see at the end for updates)

Why are twenty-first-century bark beetles so aggressive and destructive?  Empire of the Beetle paints an obsessive portrait of entymologists trying to answer that question. In describing Stephen L. Wood, the author of the bible on bark beetles and longtime professor at Brigham Young University, Nikiforuk writes

“Wood left behind a collection of 80,000 bark beetles carefully pinned to the bases of 181 specimen drawers for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. (Beetle experts tend to be a bit obsessive)”

But the part about Diana Six of the University of Montana is really interesting especially her research on yeasts.   Nikiforuk writes about her research into the co dependent nature of bark beetles and fungi. It also dispels the blue stain fungi as tree killer myth.

Bark beetles carry scores of:
  • fungi
  • mites
  • ticks
  • yeasts
  • nematodes and bacteria.

The chapter clearly explains the symbiotic relationship with the beetle and beneficial fungi.

“The spruce bark beetle (dendroctonus rufipennis) for example, up to 10 different species of fungi,” writes Nikiforuk.

The beetle stores different types of fungi to prepare for either a warm or cold winter. You’ll have to get Empire of the Beetle from your library or check out Amazon for details.

Updated 12/3/2012:

The whole book was clearly written.

The appearance of dendroctonus ponderosae aka mountain pine beetle is where the real sap-shed gets going.

Read the rest of my review atLodgepole Tsunami

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