When friends work together: The evolution of a review paper on the evolution of tree-killing in bark beetles. — TCE Editor’s Pick for 145(5)

By Dr. Chris Buddle, McGill University & Editor of The Canadian Entomologist

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This Issue’s Editor’s pick for The Canadian Entomologist is Staffan Lindgren and Ken Raffa’s paper, titled “Evolution of tree killing in bark beetles: trade-offs between the maddening crowds and a sticky situation”.  This is a key review paper that provides comprehensive and in-depth coverage of a critically important topic, especially for forest entomology in North America.  Bark beetles are often in the news because of the economic consequences of their population increases as we have seen in recent years. Behind this, however, are fascinating life history traits and a story about their tree killing habits. This is where the paper by Staffan and Ken comes into play. These two exceptional scientists have decades of experience on the topic of tree killing in bark beetles, and they bring this expertise forward with this paper.

I asked Staffan and Ken a few questions about their paper, and here are the responses:

Q1:  What inspired this work?

The scientific inspiration came from many years of reading about and studying these amazing insects. Over time, it became clear that “aggressiveness” is a relative term with respect to tree-killing beetles, because they generally appear to be very poor competitors. The same also seemed to be the case with tree-killing root diseases, so a pattern of trade-offs became apparent. Given the potent defensive capability of most conifers, the question naturally arose “why would a beetle risk its life attacking a live tree rather than utilizing a dead or dying tree?” It seemed that the answer had to be linked to trade-offs between the selection pressures exerted by competitors and host tree defenses. The inspiration to write these ideas up evolved through many years of developing a friendship with each other, and we tossed the idea around in a number of discussions we had. The opportunity to act came when the former editor of TCE, Robb Bennett, extended an invitation to submit an article as a CP Alexander Review.

Staffan (R) and Ken (L) (photo by C Raffa)

Staffan (R) and Ken (L) (photo by C Raffa)

Q2:  What do you hope will be the lasting impact of this paper?

The main objective was to put the idea out and to stimulate debate and perhaps generate new research ideas that will contribute to an increased understanding of bark beetle ecology and management. Whether or not we are proven right or wrong is really less important. Based on some feedback we have had already, it seems that the paper has had the desired effect in terms of stimulating thought. I also thought this was a great opportunity to work together on a project: we admire each other as scientist and are friends

Q3:  Where will your next line of research on this topic take you?  

We are working with another great friend of ours, Jean-Claude Grégoire, on two chapters in an upcoming book about bark beetles, so there may be some other ideas emerging from that collaboration.

Q4: Any amusing / interesting anecdotes about this research?

(from Staffan): From my perspective one of the most amusing things is that I can claim the unique experience of having Ken Raffa as a nurse. He is very good at that too, as it happens! The last time I visited him in Madison to work on this paper, I caught a bad cold. So we worked from home that week, with me intermittently resting and writing. It was embarrassing at the time, but now I find it rather amusing.

Cambridge University Press has made Staffan & Ken’s paper freely available worldwide until November 30 for being recognized as the Editor’s Pick. Thanks CUPress!

Citation:

Lindgren B.S. & Raffa K.F. (2013). Evolution of tree killing in bark beetles (Coleoptera: Curculionidae): trade-offs between the maddening crowds and a sticky situation, The Canadian Entomologist, 145 (05) 471-495. DOI:

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