By Chris Stewart
An invasive beetle responsible for wiping out huge tracts of the nation’s ash population also has a taste for olive trees, researchers at Wright State University have learned.
Though the emerald ash borer is not an immediate threat to domestic orchards or groves overseas where most olives are grown, the study yields that the killer insect finds a global commodity crop — closely related to the ash tree — an acceptable host.
“It’s a new discovery. It’s new to science. Obviously this an economically important plant,” said Don Cipollini, who headed up the research. “If (emerald ash borers) do this in nature and cause damage to these trees it would have tremendous economic impact worldwide.”
Cipollini, a biology professor, is careful to not overstate the alarm to olive growers, but the ash borer is now found to have naturally infested another ash relative, the white fringetree, an ornamental that grows in Ohio and elsewhere. That revelation came as a surprise when Cipollini made that discovery in 2014, he said.
Work on the white fringetree led Cipollini, also the director of the Environmental Sciences Ph.D Program, to wonder what other plants might be friendly to the beetle.