Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests

Andrew Nikiforuk. D&M/Greystone (dmpibooks.com/greystone-books), $17.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-55365-510-7
With equal attention to the destructive actions of insects and humans alike, Canadian journalist Nikiforuk (Tar Sands) describes the decimation of expanses of conifers by bark beetles on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Quoting entomologist Stephen L. Wood, who wrote the bible on bark beetles, Nikiforuk explains that in a healthy forest, the beetles act as managers, killing off stagnant trees, recycling them as forest nutrients, and making way for younger, more vigorous trees. But because the beetles' function "competes with human interests" the beetles have been transformed into a dangerously destructive element. Ineffective and forest- and community-destroying policies to fight the beetles, such as poisoning and clear-cutting, and forestry tactics like monoculture, which lower the forests' resilience, combined with global warming—which causes an increase in beetle reproductive cycles and weakens forests with droughts—seem to have turned what was once an essential part of the forest life cycle into an ecological disaster. Nikiforuk leavens this tragic, instructive history with curious facts about the complex, intelligent insect and intriguing experiments using sounds to "defeat scolytids and temper their forest-eating behavior." Nikiforuk's florid language, affection for the beetles, and scorn for the humans in his story are sometimes extravagant, but lighten the tone of what in other hands could be an overwhelmingly depressing topic. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/04/2011
Release date: 08/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 241 pages - 978-1-55365-894-8
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