FORT COLLINS, Colo., Sept. 28 (UPI) — The oldest trees on the planet, some almost 5,000 years old, are under threat from two enemies in their Western U.S. mountain sanctuaries, scientists say.
Bristlecone pines, including one tree named Methuselah that is 4,800 years old, are up against two enemies: white pine blister rust, an Asian fungus that came to the United States from Asia by way of Europe 100 years ago, and an outbreak of native pine bark beetle accelerated by warming in the high-elevation West, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Bristlecone pines grow at high elevations in California, Nevada and Utah.
Blister rust is a new threat for the bristlecones. It spread to Europe from Asia in the 19th century and entered the East and West Coasts of North America around the turn of the last century on nursery trees. Only now is it reaching the high-elevation bristlecone.
“Neither the bristlecones nor their ancestors have been faced with a disease like this, and they have not evolved tolerances,” Anna Schoettle, a Forest Service ecologist in Fort Collins, Colo., said.
“So really we’re in uncharted territory,” she said.
The fungus and the beetles together are especially deadly, Schoettle said.
“Blister rust kills young trees rapidly,” she said. “The mountain pine beetle only kills the larger trees, but those are the trees that produce the seeds.
“So when you have a combination of blister rust and the beetle, that severely constrains recovery of the population.”
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