A tiny tree-killing beetle with the awkwardly long name of Polyphagous Shot hole Borer was detected in South Africa for the first time last year. It’s now attacking and inserting its deadly fungal ally, Fusarium euwallaceae, in a wider array of tree species across a much wider geographical area.
The beetle was initially discovered in a Botanical Garden on the country’s east coast. It has since been detected along the southern Cape coast line as well as in several inland urban areas. The number of tree species attacked in South Africa has also risen alarmingly. It currently stands at more than 80, 35 of which are native.
The shot hole borer, which is native to Southeast Asia, has the potential to affect fruit, nut and wood production, but also to permanently change urban landscapes and natural forest ecosystems. This has happened on farms, in suburbs and in forests along river valleys in California.
The South African government has started to take steps to manage the problem. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has set up a steering committee to guide national efforts. It’s made up of representatives from various government departments, the forestry and agriculture sectors, as well as academics, arborists, and nurserymen.
The major challenge with the beetle infestation is that the insect is crossing the boundaries between agriculture, commercial forestry, natural forests, and urban trees. Never in the country’s history has any insect attacked and killed trees in all these sectors. The protection of trees the different sectors is typically dealt with by different government departments, namely Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Department of Environmental Affairs, and municipalities. But given the beetle’s unusual behaviour, routine action plans aren’t enough to curb the problem.
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