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Biologists Convene at Lees-McRae Elk Valley Preserve & Field Station for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

Sept. 25, 2014. On Sept. 12, biologists from the U.S. Forest Service, Virginia Tech, University of Tennessee, University of Massachusetts and Lees-McRae College convened at the Lees-McRae Elk Valley Preserve and Field Station in Banner Elk.

This workshop served as an opportunity to solidify research protocol for monitoring hemlock health, the impact of the non-native Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, the use of ultraviolet as a predator detection method and the effectiveness of the introduced predatory beetle, Laricobius nigrinus, in controlling the adelgid. Since its arrival in the area some 14 years ago, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has ravaged local hemlock stands.

The Elk Valley Preserve was selected for the workshop, as it was the first release site of 200 wild collected predatory beetles from Oregon in December of 2005 and February of 2006. Affectionately called “Lari,” this beetle is native to the Pacific Northwest and is a specialist predator on the adelgid, with both its adults and larva feeding on adelgid adults and eggs during the winter months.

Since the initial release of 300 lab-reared Lari beetles in 2003 on Hemlock Hill in Banner Elk, ten generations of beetles have spread some 45 miles from the preserve, helping to control the adelgids and saving hemlocks.

According to Dr. Richard McDonald, the organizer of the workshop, “The reason for this workshop’s location is because the very 1st release of wild collected beetles on the entire East Coast was made right here at the LMC field lab.And, we have collected over 50,000 Lari beetles for the Forest Service, along with obvious hemlock regrowth in the presence of this predatory beetle since 2009.  This one beetle eats over 97% of the HWA population in a given spot, and is critical in controlling HWA and saving hemlocks in our area.”

The presence of Lari at the Elk Valley Preserve, has allowed many hemlocks to recover and even begin producing cones again.

According to Dr. Stewart Skeate of Lees-McRae’s Wildlife Biology department, “In the last ten years, we have come a long way in understanding the biological control of the hemlock adelgid thanks to the work of Dr. McDonald and other bio-control specialists. We at Lees-McRae are pleased that we have been, and will continue to be, a part of such an important project for the health and diversity of our local natural communities. The protocol decided upon at the end of the workshop will be used by biologists throughout the east as efforts intensify to help the hemlocks recover.”

For more information about Lari or the wildlife biology program at Lees-McRae, please contact Dr. Stewart Skeate, professor of biological sciences, at 828.898.8787 or skeate@lmc.edu, or visit lmc.edu/science.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, Lees-McRae College is a private, four-year college offering diverse baccalaureate degrees, strong athletic programs and outstanding faculty.

With 950 students hailing from 31 states and more than 8 countries, Lees-McRae’s broad core curriculum is enhanced by field-specific career preparation and experiential learning. For more information, please visit www.lmc.edu or call800.280.4562.