CU comes to town March 18 with beetle talk | SummitDaily.com

CU comes to town March 18 with beetle talk

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News

Special to the Daily/CU-BoulderA beetle-killed forest in Rocky Mountain National Park.

CU-Boulder comes to town on March 18 as part of an outreach tour in the Central Rocky Mountains. The topic is near if not dear to Summit County residents’ hearts: the pine beetle.

From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center in Breckenridge, Chancellor Philip DiStefano and professor Jeffry Mitton host a presentation titled “Causes and Consequences: Colorado and the Pine Beetle.” The talk is about the unprecedented epidemic of mountain pine beetles that has taken over forests in the Mountain West, with some discussion of why it’s occurring.

Mitton is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and has focused his and his doctoral graduate assistant Scott Ferrenberg’s research on the bark beetle.

In his work and in the presentation, he’s asking why the latest bark beetle epidemic is so much greater than any other epidemic in recorded history. Elaborate records from the British Columbia Ministry of Forests shows that the epidemic is already more than 10 times greater than the next biggest, Mitton said. It stretches about 1,500 miles from Mexico to the Canadian Yukon and reaches almost from the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean.

Beetles are flying about two months earlier than they used to, largely because temperatures – about 58 percent warmer in spring – are more conducive to longer active periods. Mitton said they used to fly for about 50 days in summer, and now they’re active for about 130 days.

“Some beetles are pulling off two generations in a year,” Mitton said, which means a rapidly growing population. With temperatures the way they are, eggs can develop into adults in two months instead of one year.

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“The temperatures have changed the life cycle of the bark beetle, changed where it can strike, and opened new forests that are less resistant,” he said. The forests around Dillon Reservoir may not have been hit hard by the bark beetle in the past because beetles generally thrive below 9,000 feet. Higher elevation trees are largely less resilient, Mitton said.

The phenomena that contribute to the immensity of the current bark beetle epidemic are also reasons why other beetles are proliferating. Spruce beetles used to reproduce at one generation per two years. Now, the cycle is shortened to one year, Mitton said. In the Southeast, pine beetles are hitting higher elevations and latitudes. And it’s not just beetles – many insects are responding. Bumblebee research has shown nests 600 feet higher than they were 10 years ago.

Breckenridge is the fourth stop on the chancellor’s outreach tour, alumni director of events and outreach Ally Frusciano said. They head to Steamboat, Carbondale and Vail before Breckenridge. The goal is to expose the public to the university’s faculty at the same time the crew delivers a presentation on an interesting topic.

Mitton said he aims to show that research done at the university is directly relevant to Coloradans.

“We do things everyday people relate to intensely,” he said.

To register for the free presentation and reception, visit cualum.org/breck and sign up by March 11. For more information, call Ally Frusciano at (800) 492-7743.