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AUB-led team blames global warming for rise of cedar-eating insect.

Byline: Daily Star Staff

Summary: An American University of Beirut (AUB)-led team of scientists has succeeded in determining the causes behind the outbreak of a cedar needle-eating sawfly, Cephalcia tannourinensis, which had threatened to wipe out the cedar forests of Lebanon with its emergence in 1997, a statement issued by the university said on Thursday.

BEIRUT: An American University of Beirut (AUB)-led team of scientists has succeeded in determining the causes behind the outbreak of a cedar needle-eating sawfly, Cephalcia tannourinensis, which had threatened to wipe out the cedar forests of Lebanon with its emergence in 1997, a statement issued by the university said on Thursday.

Cephalcia tannourinensis first attacks cedar spring buds and then chews on them, leaving them a burned reddish-brown.

After several years of study, the AUB-led team discovered that the pest outbreak was caused by changes in soil humidity and temperature.

"This was a direct result of climatic changes and global warming," said AUB plant sciences professor Nabil Nemr, the assistant director the project conducting the studies.

AUB scientists Nasri S. Kawar and Nabil Nemer, the project director and assistant project director respectively, had been involved in studying Cephalcia tannourinensis since it first appeared toward the end of 1997 and was identified a year later, in collaboration with a technical expert from Europe.

Between 1997 and 2003, the Tannourine-Hadath al-Jebbeh Cedar Forest was sprayed with a biopesticide, as scientists started studying the pest. Scientists were able to identify the sex pheromones of this particular species of Cephalcia, which is only found in Lebanon, something which would help them disrupt the sawfly's reproductive cycle in the future, thus controlling further outbreaks. The sex pheromones of the insect were identified in cooperation with the National Institute of Agricultural Research in France.

Funded by the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Program, the project, which was launched in 2004, focused on "Integrated Management of Cedar Forests in Lebanon in Cooperation with other Mediterranean Countries." Implemented by AUB, in collaboration with the Environment Ministry, the $1.2-million project was completed at the end of 2007 with a closing ceremony in Tannourine on December 1, 2007. Its main aim was to identify the cause of the pest outbreak; improve the management of the biodiversity of the cedar forests; and protect them from insect pests.

The ceremony was attended by AUB president John Waterbury; professor Berj Hatjian; the director-general of the Environment Ministry; AUB professors Kawar and Nemer, who is also the project's focal point; Lina Yamout, from the Environment Ministry; Nehmeh Harb, the chairman of the Tannourine Cedar Forest Nature Reserve Committee; and Professor Isam Torbey, head of the Tannourine Municipal Council. Representatives of the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces and of various NGOs also attended the ceremony. After introductory remarks by Harb, Torbey, Kawar and Hatjian, a documentary about the project was shown. The project team then gave a detailed presentation about the project objectives and achievements.

New monitoring tools have been developed and an action plan has been developed for the management of Cephalcia tannourinensis. The tools utilize both color traps and pheromone traps. The plan outlines the steps to be followed on an annual basis to monitor the insect. Biological control agents such as the local strain of Beauveria bassiana found in the soil of Tannourine were studied for possible applications in the future.

The project has also funded four graduate scholarships, covering full tuition fees for students majoring in forest entomology and ecology. The students were selected on the basis of academic achievement and interest in the subject.

A management plan for the Tannourine Cedar Forest Nature Reserve was prepared. The forest soil profiles were studied and a soil map was prepared. A GIS database and maps were produced, and trail maps were adjusted and incorporated into the GIS database. A flora monitoring study was also completed. These steps will provide important base-line information about the forest for future monitoring of any changes that might occur.

A series of workshops were conducted and targeted primarily the rural sector in Tannourine. The workshops included: ecotourism, student environmental awareness, developing local capacity on botanical assessment and flora monitoring, developing local capacity in monitoring major insect pests, first aid principles and food processing principles and techniques. The purpose of these workshops was to train groups in the local community in activities that would have financial benefits such as preparing traditional foods for selling to visitors of the reserve.

The project publications were also diverse: more than 10 scientific publications as scientific articles or abstract in international meetings as well as theses and "memoires" were produced. Outreach publications included a DVD, three booklets, two brochures, 15 bird cards, four posters and a Web site for the Tannourine Cedar Forest Nature Reserve ( www.arztannourine.org ). - The Daily Star

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jan 25, 2008
Words:818
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