Maddie Oatman

Senior Research Editor

Maddie is the senior research editor at Mother Jones, based in the San Francisco office. She writes and edits stories about food, health, the environment, and culture, and is the co-host of MoJo's food politics podcast Bite. Her work has also appeared in Grist, Huffington Post, Outside, the Rumpus, and the Best American Science and Nature Writing. You can reach her at moatman@motherjones.com. 

Get my RSS |

When Spruce Beetles Attack!

Scientists have found that drought means Engelmann spruce trees (pictured on Red Mountain Pass, Colorado, above) have weaker defenses against spruce beetles, triggering an outbreak in hundreds of thousands of acres in Colorado's forests.

Since the late 1990s, mountain pine beetles have swept through millions of acres of forest in the Rockies, turning hillsides of trees a rusty red and then grey as they populate trees and kill them. In Colorado, this outbreak seems to have peaked in 2008 and 2009; but just as one species slowed, another—the spruce beetle—has picked up steam. A new University of Colorado study published in Ecology reveals how drought was the driver of the rise in spruce beetle activity and resulting tree deaths in Colorado's high-elevation forests in recent years. The drought is in turn linked to changes in sea surface temperatures that are expected to continue for decades to come. In the long-term, such massive insect infestations could dramatically diminish North American forests' ability to retain water and sequester carbon—meaning trees will be less effective at balancing out the human toll on the environment.

So far, fewer acres of trees have been affected by spruce beetles than mountain pine beetles, but there are more spruce forests in Colorado than Lodgepole pine, so there's "no reason to expect the percentage mortality to be less or acreage affected to be any less" than it was for the mountain pine beetle epidemic, said Tom Veblen, coauthor of the study and a geography professor at CU.

Thu Jan. 14, 2016 9:06 PM EST
Mon Jan. 4, 2016 7:00 AM EST
Wed Sep. 24, 2014 1:24 PM EDT
Mon Sep. 1, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Wed Mar. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Sat Oct. 12, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Thu Sep. 19, 2013 2:27 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 1, 2013 5:46 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 14, 2013 3:39 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 22, 2013 5:30 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 18, 2013 7:11 AM EST
Fri Feb. 8, 2013 7:42 PM EST
Sun Dec. 23, 2012 7:11 AM EST
Fri Nov. 9, 2012 10:18 PM EST
Wed Nov. 7, 2012 4:10 PM EST
Tue Nov. 6, 2012 7:52 PM EST
Mon Oct. 29, 2012 6:03 AM EDT
Wed Oct. 17, 2012 6:03 AM EDT
Wed Sep. 26, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Sep. 3, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 26, 2012 5:48 PM EDT
Tue May. 15, 2012 4:45 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 20, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
3
Fri Dec. 26, 2014 7:15 AM EST