Early pine beetle detection goal of MSU study


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Posted: 7/22/2002


Just an eighth of an inch long, the Southern pine beetle is a big pest in Mississippi's forests, destroying thousands of trees each year.

The wood-boring insect soon may take less of a bite out of Mississippi forests, thanks to a new project in Mississippi State University's Forest and Wildlife Research Center. Scientists there are using remote sensing technology to detect and analyze pine beetle infestations.

Remote sensing refers to the use of satellites and aircraft to gather information on land use, vegetation, moisture, and other characteristics of an area.

Funded by the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative, the one-year project is expected to result in a commercially viable early detection system and other tools to battle the pine beetle.

Based at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, MSCI is a consortium of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the State of Mississippi, 38 businesses and Mississippi's research universities working to develop, commercialize and expand the state's remote sensing industry.

"Southern pine beetles annually kill an estimated 12 million cubic feet of Mississippi's pine forest," said Donald L. Grebner, project investigator and assistant professor in the department of forestry. "With forest products accounting for $1.25 billion in agricultural revenue and ranking second among Mississippi's agricultural products, we need to find new ways to protect this important asset.

Beetle infestations now are identified primarily by visual inspection from small aircraft. Once infestation areas are mapped, experts on the ground determine the best course of action to control the pest.

One problem with the current system, Grebner noted, is that the damage is not spotted before trees actually begin to die from beetle infestations. The MSU project will seek ways to detect telltale signs the pest is just starting to move into trees.

Another project goal is to assess the economic impact of pine beetle damage to Mississippi's forests.

"The monetary loss resulting from pine beetle damage has not been previously determined, Grebner said. "This project will provide loss estimates, in addition to performing image analysis to detect pine beetle damage and determining the marketability of trees already damaged by the insect.

An economically viable early detection could be commercialized for use by private, corporate, state and federal forest managers and landowners seeking to protect their timberland investments, Grebner added.

"Early detection and treatment of pine beetle infested areas will reduce per-acre losses and promote healthy investment returns from active forest management, he said.

EMC Surveying and Mapping of Greenwood is assisting in the MSU project by acquiring and processing the digital images.

For more information on the project, contact Grebner at 662-325-0928, e-mail dgrebner@cfr.msstate.edu. Additional information about MSCI is available at http://www.spacecommerce.com.

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