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Potential problem in NE Pennsylvania


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Currently, the Gypsy Moth caterpillars have inundated much of our local hardwood forest --especially oak-- and the trees are being defoliated as I write this. Later this summer, some trees will re-bud after the caterpillars move on to their next stage of life. This should happen around mid July. I'm wondering what effect this may have on the mycorrhizal mushroom species that associate with the defoliated trees.

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Hi DaveW, we actually had this happen a few years ago. I can remember walking through the woods and the sound of the catapillars eating sounded like rain. The good news is that I don't remember any shortage of mushrooms. I hope there isn't any difference in your neck of the woods.

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Sounds good, John. Hopefully the oak forests are leafed out again by mid/late July. Once the caterpillars are gone, I'll be out there looking. In the meantime, there are areas around here that are not currently infested with Gypsy Moths.

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I can remember walking through the woods and the sound of the catapillars eating sounded like rain.[/quote

The sound you heard was frass, or catapillar excrement hitting the forest floor. More like rain than you probably imagined. . .

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My understanding is also that the sound is the feces hitting leaves and ultimately the forest floor. I think the potential exists for there to be some unusual saprobic mushrooms to eventually appear in these currently infested woods. For the time being, though, I'll be spending most of my woods-time in areas that aren't loaded with these caterpillars. It gets pretty disgusting in these infested places.

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Dave,

In my experience a healthy forest can fairly easily withstand one defoliation caused by gypsy moth and the trees will regrow this year and be fine next year. If it happens again next year most of the trees will still have enough reserve strength to leaf out again in summer and carry on. If it happens a third year in a row a lot of trees will be in trouble. As a result you typically find that in managed forests the managers take prompt action to deal with the gypsy moth. There is a biological control that is sprayed from aircraft that works pretty well (I forget the name of the stuff but I witnessed it salvaging a 2200 acre forest that was being ravaged). It is too late now to apply it but you might want to watch for spray activity next spring. The other choice would be an insecticide spray again from an airplane but that can be nasty. One indicator that a forest manager is addressing the problem is that this year you might find collection stations set up in the forest to collect feces so that they get an actually count of the density of the bugs. They typically wont apply a spray next year if the bug population hasnt reached some threshold that justifies the cost of the spray. The thing is that gypsy moth cant just be ignored, they can devastate a forest.

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Thanks Dufferin. Your explanation matches my own understanding. Since the late 1980s, when we had serious infestations here, there have been relatively minor sporadic outbreaks. After the defoliation, there is a "second spring" in late July when the forest re-greens. Hopefully, we don't have a period of extremely hot/dry weather then. Long-range forecast calls for first-stage el-Nino influence at this exact time, which would be a real big help. I think that some weak trees may be taken down after one year. It's not unusual for some spots to get hit for two or more consecutive years. We have some ghost-oak ridges around here. A local biologist says that the caterpillars can literally eat themselves to death by completely depleting their food-source. This suggests a mechanism whereby badly infested areas are spared a second consecutive annual defoliation; or perhaps even push the total caterpillar population beyond environmental tipping point resulting in a dramatic widespread decrease in next year's numbers.

But the prediction is for the possibility of another serious threat next year. It depends upon the weather during May, we are told. A damp cool May allows a fungus to develop which apparently kills most of the egg masses before they hatch. We just had a record warmest May with very little rainfall.

Years back, our local county had participated in a state-administered Gypsy Moth control initiative. Fiscal concerns have influenced the county to abandon this initiative. But I suspect they'll find the money to reinstate it. I don't know how many county acres will be defoliated, but I haven't seen any oak-dominated areas being spared. My own property has only a few small oaks. We haven't seen many caterpillars here. A couple miles away in any given direction one sees defoliation.

From a mushrooming point of view, I suspect that at least some of the oak-associating species will not produce very much until after the trees re-green. A general fertilization of the forest floor --caterpillar feces-- may encourage some unusual saprobes to appear. I won't be checking the oak-dominated areas until after the caterpillars are gone. For now, I'll seek out birch/beech/maple/ash woods and stands of conifers for my forays. Areas that lose some large old oaks could become good hen-of-the-woods hunting spots. We don't have many elms around here, but I believe I have noticed a few elms being defoliated. So this could result in a better than average 2016 morel crop in a few spots.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yes, in many local spots the oak trees are bare and the trunks look like the photo. But I think the caterpillar feeding stage is over. Some trees are starting to re-bud. Good thing we got all the rain to help the trees recover. Mushrooms are still fruiting in the oak woods. So it looks like everything will be okay... except for some trees that will be lost.

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Most of the trees will survive. The caterpillars will turn into moths before long. It's depressing out there when the caterpillars are peaking... no leaves, caterpillars clinging to everything, defecating while they feed which sounds like rain falling in the forest.

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Heya Dave. Actually a pretty interesting thing to contemplate. I'd assume long term effects would be more of a worry than the short term. The root systems should continue to do their thing for quite a while without foliage, the strain on the tree might even kick things into overdrive....I don't know that with any certainty though. Fortunately, winter is a nice reset button, and next years conditions may not suit the insects, and the tree should be able to rebound. A season long lack of foliage would result in difficulty or inability for trees to seed, fruit, etc. A whole year without the creation of future generations would have some impact. Understanding the severity of that impact is best left to someone other than me.

In warm weather climates, where the insect could thrive year round, it would probably have a much greater impact.

Up here, I've seen several reports concerning the boring insects increasing populations, but year to year, I fail to see any significant impact on any species. In my opinion....fungus, rodents, and overgrowth are the biggest natural enemies of our forests.

Long time, did you have a good winter?

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We had plenty of snow last winter, so I got out on my xx-skis quite a bit. Helps keep me in shape for mushroom hunting :-)

Right now I'm having a great summer... with so many shrooms to pick I just filled up my dehydrator with yet another batch of B. edulis. Had to hang some in the attic window cuz there were too many for the dryer. Trumpets and chanties are starting now.

Looks like the oak trees are leafing out now, and there still seems to be a lot of mushrooms in the oak woods. Gypsy moths are an annual thing, and they often move form one area to another. Hopefully, the same spots around here don't get hit next year. That's when real damage occurs, after multiple years of defoliation.

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Our dehydrator's were probably running in unison......The jar of dried mushrooms feels more like a trophy eh?

I'm always excited about chanterelles, but I have to say I'm most looking forward to the bi-colors that should be popping up in bit. I'm hoping for a few more pounds this year.......I was able to get a few pounds flash frozen last year, but they were gone by Jan.

I've come to a conclusion with black trumpets.......I have a tendency to move a little bit too fast in the woods, I might be too impatient for this mushroom........I will probably never find them.

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That's what I talked to him about. He mentioned they figure about 85% of PAs forest to be mature. Not enough new growth forest. The other pest is the emerald ash borer, although it hasn't been a problem yet. I hope I find a black morel while there's still ash and poplar lol. Spent a bit o time discussing tree id too. Good guy!

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Some of the ash trees in a black morel spot have died within the past 4 years. Not sure if it's the borer or some of the hot dry spells we've had during some of the last 8 early springs. Or both. My numbers of morels in this spot have dropped off considerably for me.

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