26 Oct 2018

Graeme Clare, the man breeding a bark beetle army to protect our forestry exports

From Country Life, 9:14 pm on 26 October 2018

Where do you go if you happen to need thousands and thousands of bark beetles?

Well, if you're in a hurry talk to Graeme Clare. That's what the New Zealand forestry industry did.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

When New Zealand exports logs to China, India and elsewhere, we must ensure they're not carrying any passengers – in particular, two types of bark beetles.

For years we have fumigated logs with methyl bromide – an ozone-depleting toxic chemical that many countries are trying to phase out.

In fact, in two years' time regulations will be introduced that'll make it difficult and expensive to use methyl bromide.

So, not surprisingly, the forestry industry is very keen on finding an alternative.

But, in order to see if other fumigants work, they need to be tested on bark beetles.

Bark beetle rearing project

Photo: © The New Zealand Institure for Plant & Food Research Limited. All rights reserved

Enter Graeme Clare.

"I went to a meeting one day and they said they wanted insects urgently, like ASAP and normally you get years of warning to supply insects. Well, they said 'we need them urgently' and I said 'well, that's almost impossible because you haven't even got a colony'."

He set to work, but one disaster followed another.

"We were forever starting over again."

Finally, Graeme devised a way to get the beetles to lay their eggs in a 'bark sandwich'. That way, the eggs could be retrieved.

He also perfected the recipe and the conditions for an artificial diet in which bark beetle eggs would mature and thrive.

Bark beetle rearing project

Photo: Copyright © The New Zealand Institure for Plant & Food Research Limited. All rights reserved

Now 6,000 eggs are collected a week, larvae and adult bark beetles are produced and at the busiest time of the year, 14 people work on the project.

"It's almost like a factory operation... It's the biggest operation on rearing, I'd say, in New Zealand."

The forestry industry is excited with the results of the bark beetle breeding programme, Graeme says.

"Initially, they thought it was going to be an incredibly difficult process and that they may not be able to achieve it. It's enabling  the forestry industry basically to do the research they need to be able to continue to export logs."

In the past seven and a half years, $22 million has been spent trying to find alternatives to methyl bromide and manage emissions from it.