I know every animal plays its part in the circle of life, blah, blah, blah — but if I could eradicate one animal from the planet, the pine beetle would be pretty high on the list. The miniscule bugs are singlehandedly responsible for destroying entire swaths of forest in the Rockies, opening the door to catastrophic fires. Typically their populations are controlled by long, hard freezes, but temperature increases related to global warming have enabled them to survive winters and chomp massive amounts of pine — 2,300 square miles in Colorado alone.
Now Canada is under extreme threat from the little buggers. 33 million acres, or about 51,562 square miles of British Columbia have suffered a vicious pine beetle attack. But other than destroying beautiful montane forests, the pine beetle is limiting Canada's ability to absorb CO2 emissions via their carbon sink forests. Even worse, decaying trees actually release carbon dioxide: New, sobering research indicates that by 2020, the forest is expected to release more carbon dioxide than it absorbs.
"This is the kind of feedback we're all very worried about in the carbon cycle — a warming planet leading to, in this case, an insect outbreak that increases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which can increase warming," said Andy Jacobson, a carbon cycle scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, CO.
It can take a colony of beetles less than two weeks to kill a tree; when the population explodes, it's easy to see how they can take down entire national forests. The outbreak in Canada could be so severe that the normally environmentally-conscious country could have trouble meeting new carbon emissions goals.
Damn. That's one nasty bug. — Ted Alvarez
Pine beetle outbreaks turn forests into carbon source (AP)