Ambrosia Beetle Research Making Headlines

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Jill Calabro, Ph.D.

Research on how alcohol in trees impacts ambrosia beetle populations has been recently featured in major scientific news outlets. Dr. Chris Ranger, USDA-ARS, recently published new results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a highly reputable scientific and peer-reviewed journal.

PNAS features innovative, cutting-edge research that is often highlighted by more mainstream news outlets. Since being published, the research on ambrosia beetle was featured in National GeographicScience Magazine, and Science Daily.

A key conclusion of the research shows that alcohol is important to ambrosia beetles in two distinct ways. First, it serves as an attractant, since stressed trees are known to produce alcohol. This scent acts as a beacon for ambrosia beetles, indicating a suitable host. Secondly, alcohol benefits the ambrosia fungus that is cultivated as the beetles’ food source by limiting other competing fungi in beetle galleries. This creates an inhospitable environment for certain microbes, thereby enabling ambrosia fungus to flourish.

This research was supported directly by the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) in 2012 and 2013, with a total of $60,000. The USDA-ARS Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative further provided over $1.1 million in funds since 2012, with the guidance and support of HRI.

The full text of the article can be viewed at PNAS.

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