An unprecedented infestation of grasshoppers ravages a black spruce plantation in Labrador.
Thank goodness for digital cameras. Otherwise, what was I to believe when I received a call from Corey Wight, all the way up in the wilds of Labrador, when he told me that his black spruce seedlings were being eaten by grasshoppers just as quickly as they were being planted. Yes, that’s right, grasshoppers! Or, to put it in biblical terms, “a plague of locusts”.
Corey is the DNR Regional Silviculturist in Labrador. He was overseeing a contract planting job on the Churchill Road, just west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. It was late August, 2011 and MC JR Contracting, a silviculture contractor from Lewisporte, Newfoundland was in the midst of a 106 ha planting job. They were using dibbles and pottiputkis to plant containerized black spruce grown at the local DNR tree nursery. The site being planted was an old burnover that had failed to regenerate naturally. Production was great (no slash, rock or significant vegetation) and quality was good. What could possibly go wrong at this point?
Enter Melanoplus borealis borealis, better known as the Northern grasshopper. Monitoring staff began noticing defoliation on Day 4 of the job. At times there were five and six grasshoppers per seedling, chewing away at the foliage and buds. At the time, the damage seemed to be limited and confined to small areas, so we allowed the contract to continue.
At the end of the summer, Corey’s staff conducted a damage survey consisting of more than fifty 1/100 ha plots. What they found wasn’t pretty. They determined that less than 10% of the planted seedlings had escaped defoliation. 32% of all seedlings planted had more than 50% of their foliage removed and 8% were totally defoliated. More than 70% had some or all of their buds removed. At this point we can only hope that the majority of seedlings survive the winter and begin to recover in 2012. A second survey will be carried out after bud burst next spring to see if we still have an intact plantation. Next year I’m predicting a rain of frogs.