Aug. 8, 2013 — The scourge of forests, the emerald ash borer, or EAB, is usually described with words like "destructive" and "pest." A recent study based on data collected by citizen scientists suggests that one more adjective might apply, at least from a bird's perspective: "delicious."
In a study published this week in the journal Biological Invasions, U.S. Forest Service entomologist Andrew Liebhold and Cornell University scientist Walter Koenig and others document how an EAB invasion fueled a population boom for four species of birds in the Detroit area.
The four species of birds considered in the study "Effects of the emerald ash borer invasion on four species of birds" included three woodpeckers that are known to forage on EAB-infested ash trees -- the downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker -- as well as the white-breasted nuthatch, a common bark-gleaning species that is also a potential predator of EAB. All four species are cavity-nesters and also stand to benefit from an increase in nesting habitat as trees are killed by EAB.
"The emerald ash borer has been massively destructive because most North American ash trees have little or no defense against it," Liebhold said. "We can take heart that native woodpecker species are clearly figuring out that EAB is edible, and this new and widely abundant food source appears to be enhancing their reproduction."