Brain Food: Flagstaff Bark Beetle Expert Sets Up Lab in Russia

May 17, 2018

Warming temperatures and drought are increasing bark beetle outbreaks worldwide, killing off thousands of miles of forests. The problem is so dire in Russia that foresters have enlisted the help of Flagstaff entomologist and bark beetle expert Rich Hofstetter.

A southern pine bark beetle with mites
Credit Courtesy of Rich Hofstetter

He’s set up a lab at Tyumen State University, mirroring his research facility at Northern Arizona University.

“Russia is suffering the same effects on their forests that we are in North America. Their forests are similar to ours in composition and structure. They have about 80 percent conifers in their northern forests and they are suffering from bark beetle mortality and climate change issues,” he says.

NAU School of Forestry Entomologist Rich Hofstetter in his bark beetle lab.
Credit Bonnie Stevens

Hofstetter has discovered that playing music and other sounds at high volume disrupts the beetle’s communication, reproduction and other behaviors. Amplifying their own sounds tricks the insects into believing their territory is threatened, deterring them from burrowing into trees. Hofstetter plans to conduct the same experiment in the forests of Russia.

“We will set up an audio lab there where we can record the species that they have and give us an opportunity to learn their language. It’s probably not the same as the beetles that are here, just like our Russian language versus the English language. They probably have a very different type of communication in some cases. In some cases, they may be the same. It’s going to be really exciting to see the type of sounds and how we may be able to learn about their communication and also maybe use it as a tool for management,” he says

Mountain pine beetle larvae burrowed in bark
Credit Courtesy of Rich Hofstetter

Hofstetter sees the collaboration as a chance to learn about the global infestation of bark beetles. He says he embraces the opportunity to give both Russian and American students international research experience.