Boardman, Ohio, students track down hemlock woolly aphid



A group of students from Boardman Glenwood Junior High School studied hemlock trees in the Mill Creek MetroParks on Friday, December 17, 2021, to track their infestations with an invasive insect called the hemlock woolly aphid.

An invasive insect that feeds on hemlock – which can be found along several Mill Creek MetroParks trails – has made its way to Mahoning County.

The hemlock woolly aphid, an invasive insect that feeds on the sap of specific hemlock and spruce trees, was discovered in 2020 along the Slippery Rock Trail in Northern Mill Creek Park, according to the MetroParks website.

A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said the insects enter through the needles of the tree and then move up, causing the needles to change from a natural green color to a greyish green.

Hemlock mortality can affect plants, animals and other organisms in the local ecosystem as well as ecological processes such as nutrient cycling, decomposition and temperature of streams, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Joshua Boyle, educational director for the Environmental Collaborative of Ohio, said the park has yet to see negative effects from the hemlock woolly aphid invasion, but the species may take a few years to kill. trees.

The invasive species was first discovered in North America in 1924 and reported near Richmond, Virginia, in 1951. Since then, the insects have moved along the Appalachians, causing hemlock to decline rapidly, ODA reported. Over the past two years, the bugs have been found in several Ohio counties, including Mahoning, Summit, Portage, Columbiana and Jefferson counties, the ODNR spokesperson said.

Boyle said he noticed the hemlock woolly aphid invasion growing locally and connected with local school districts to help save hemlock trees along MetroParks trails.

Boyle worked with science teachers at Boardman Glenwood Junior High School to develop a grant program, Project STREAM, to bring students into local ecosystems for practical studies, while working alongside professional scientists from the environment.

Boyle said the work the college kids do helps protect key resources in the Mill Creek metro parks, especially along the main trails where hemlocks live.

“We took the students to the park to do a hemlock survey and collect data on all the hemlocks here,” he said. “So when [the park] tackle invasive species, they can go back and compare results from previous years [to see] if the trees are affected.

Ohio’s first infestation of hemlock trees was discovered in Meigs County, southern Ohio, in February 2012. The insects quickly spread to counties in eastern Ohio, reported the ODA.

On Friday, Boardman students worked in small groups that split up along the trail to observe hemlocks and mark their locations for a database. The information gathered along the trails will help future researchers to know which trees have been infested.

Boyle said the study provides the park with a free resource it can use before major invasions occur. It also gives students a convenient educational way to learn more about their local ecosystems.

“When you do this kind of work, they hire professionals who cost thousands of dollars,” he said. “Although we do not give the same quality, we provide the kids with a good baseline experience and park. “

The STREAM project received more than $ 78,000 in grants for program support, equipment and supplies from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and other local sponsorships.

Laura Frost, eighth-grade science teacher at Boardman Glenwood Junior High School, said the connection students make by studying local wildlife is always greater than they expected.

“We did a project last year, just going out into the woods in front of the school, and a [student] writes … the taught project [him] more about her house than ever before, ”she said.

Frost said students learn more about species and biodiversity throughout the year in class and can now use their education to protect the local ecosystem.

“It comes into play when we talk about invasive species moving through an ecosystem and how that affects it,” she said.

Boyle said it was the first of many field trips for the students. Further work is planned to prevent hemlock from being invaded in the future. The Nature Conservancy found that the insects had “spread quite a bit” in areas denser in hemlock, he said.

An ODNR spokesperson said the state’s hemlock conservation plan was completed in 2017 by the Ohio Forestry Division to guide hemlock management in eastern Ohio. .

“The vision is to have students who go out several times a year and who overlap[ing] of each of their field trips, ”Boyle said. “The students really understand the work in a unit and everyone exchanges jobs, whether it is measuring trees [or] use the tablet to record observations.

Lillian Askar, an eighth-grader, said science is the most interesting subject for her to learn, and she plans to continue studying other invasive species in future projects. Student groups uploaded photos of the bugs they spotted on the iNaturalist phone app.

“I’m learning new things and discovering new species that I never knew existed,” Askar said.

Frost said she wants students to realize that there are many environmental science-type careers available to them when choosing career paths.

“It opens their eyes to realize that there are other things out there, and a lot of really cool jobs that I think everyone would like to know early in their life,” he said. she declared.

If you spot an infested hemlock, the ODNR suggests taking a sample of the needles from the tree, or taking a photo of the discolored needles, and reporting your findings to the tree. ODNR website.

This story was originally published December 18, 2021 4:00 a.m.


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