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NAU bug specialist’s work could be key to fewer wildfires

PHOENIX — He’s blasted rock music and even their own amplified sounds at bark beetles to change their voracious eating patterns.

But now, entomologist Rich Hofstetter of Northern Arizona University, is using the bugs’ own natural enemy, a fungus, in the latest bark beetle battle.

The forestry professor is testing the fungus Beauveria bassiana on different species of the insect responsible for chewing through tens of thousands of square miles of trees from Mexico to Canada.

“We have isolated particular strains and are testing to see whether these strains are effective,” Hofstetter said.

Arizona is experiencing a bark beetle outbreak in the White Mountains, where the Wallow fire burned in 2011. Bark beetle infestations have gotten larger and more devastating to forests in recent years, just like wildfires.

Hofstetter was contacted by Montana BioAgriculture to conduct the research and find the most deadly strain of the fungus.

The company is developing fungal bio-insecticides to control bark beetles with an environmentally benign product that can be commercially produced and marketed to forest managers.

“The fungus releases white powdery spores. When bark beetles crawl over them the fungus gets into their bodies and takes over,” Hofstetter said.

“The spores penetrate the exoskeleton of the beetle. And once they get inside, they replicate, they grow and kill the beetle within one to two days. When the beetle is dead, the fungus grows outside of the beetle and produces more spores that can be picked up by other insects.”