UVic Torch -- Fall 2004
Autumn 2005,
Volume 26, Number 2

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NEW RESEARCH SHOWS HOW ONE LITTLE BUG CAN MANIPULATE an entire conifer tree’s reproductive system. Biologist Patrick von Aderkas of the university’s Centre for Forest Biology and his European colleagues say the wasp—inadvertently imported to Europe from BC when Douglas fir from this region were planted there a century ago—can trick a tree into nourishing the bugs’ larvae as if it were a fertilized seed.

“Normally, the sex and seed reserve go hand-in-hand, because the reserves feed the developing plant embryo. Here the surrogate embryo, the insect, dictates development. It’s the only case in which a plant is induced to overproduce fats, proteins and carbohydrates in the seed by a parasitic insect.”     

The wasp (Megastigmus, by its scientific name) is also enjoying life in Europe because there are no natural predators to keep it in check. It accounts for only minimal seed loss in BC, but it has caused 95 per cent seed loss in France, where the Douglas fir is the number one lumber tree.

“It is,” says von Aderkas, “a very successful pest.”

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