Presently, I am writing an article on traditional vs. native biocontrols and how to locate native biocontrols. With Ailanthus altissima, I have found native biocontrols. At the same time, I was able to develop the theory and practice that allows us to locate other natives. My basic attitude is a hands-off approach until we understand the problem we are trying to solve. As humans we try to engineer the world and correct what we destroy before taking the time to look beyond the surface. We tend to be very impatient, looking in human, not ecological time.
Ailanthus provides an example of this impatience and the arrogance that we as humans can control/engineer the natural world, correcting its “mistakes”. Native organisms take time to develop and adapt to new food sources in the same way we as humans take time to move from one idea or paradigm to another.
Another example of this is the chestnut blight. The disease is very virulent in both American and Chinese chestnuts, which talks of its recent development. However, even with my recent introduction to the problem I am seeing native chestnuts that are developing resistance. When I look at this, I see a new disease, in ecological time, which needs time for chestnuts to adapt to. At the same time, chestnuts have a short generation time and heavy seed crops. This means that the rate of adaptation will be fast in biological time due to the resistant trees putting out many generations with increasing resistance as the generations proceed. With a little patience and lots of field time, we will be seeing this growing number of resistant trees. Therefore, we do not have to introduce the Chinese genes into American trees. However, people are introducing new foreign genes to “fix the problem”. (There are several experiments locally, including a plantation where this is being done.)
In North Carolina, researchers are looking for native Canada hemlock trees that are resisting or resistant to the wooly adelgid. This is what I consider the right approach. Here, in central Pennsylvania, within sight of the Appalachian Trail, I am seeing trees that are targets and trees that are resisting. Yesterday, we were walking south on the AT from Rt. 183. I saw a tree apparently free of the wooly adelgid and one where it was like snow on the branches within 40 feet of each other.