Fungi and insect combination is damaging beech trees

By Peter Kent

An interaction between an insect and a fungus is killing American beech trees from Canada to North Carolina. Called beech bark disease, the condition is moving down the east coast. It occurs if the tree is infested with the beech scale insect and then is colonized by a fungus.Tree trunk and foilage

Mycologist Julia Kerrigan is investigating the ecology of fungi in forest ecosystems and the fungal diseases of woody plants. Her research examines the relationship between the insect and the fungi, and may point scientists toward control measures to protect the trees.

About 90% of the higher plants, including trees, grasses, flowering and seed-bearing plants, have a mutually beneficial relationship with fungi. Some fungi serve as nutrient recyclers by breaking down dead plant tissues, while others are harmful to plants or animals. Fungi also can be important foods for small mammals and insects, as well as for humans in the form of mushrooms.

For information: Julia Kerrigan, 864-656-2640,