Indiana State University Newsroom

Students join fight against emerald ash borer

October 28, 2013

Indiana State students join fight against emerald ash borerA blight branching out from Michigan is traveling south to devour all ash trees in its path.

The emerald ash borer traveled from China to Michigan, likely by a wooden crate shipment, and has crippled almost every ash tree it has found. After wiping out nearly all ash trees around Michigan, it began making its way south and has infected Indiana State University ash trees. A tree-ring research class consisting of nine undergraduate students and five graduate students is partnering with ISU Grounds Maintenance to examine the insect's effects on tree growth and health.

"The ash trees don't stand a chance against the emerald ash borers," said Sabrina Brown, a senior environmental science and science education major. "Our end goal is to see if the treatment works on the trees. Hopefully the trees will be better off."

There are currently 450 ash trees on Indiana State's campus. The project aims to study 20 ash and 20 oak trees. Grounds maintenance crews have treated the trees and students in the department of earth and environmental systems are conducting research to make sure reduced growth in the ash trees isn't due to weather conditions such as the recent droughts last summer and at the end of this summer.

Mature ash borers feed on the leaves of the ash tree and lay eggs inside the bark. Borer larvae drain the nutrients and water from trees, stunting their growth and eventually killing them. The insects can be identified by their bright, metallic emerald color. Some sport a reddish tint within the emerald color and tend to be between 10 and 13 millimeters long.

Grounds crews drilled holes in multiple places around the infected trees and injected a pesticide, as recommended by Purdue University Extension.

"The tree will draw water and pesticide from the roots toward the top," said Jim Speer, professor of geography and geology. "The pesticide will eventually reach the leaves and kill the mature borers. This will hopefully control the (ash borer) population and sustain the trees."

Aside from trying to control the emerald ash borer, the class is determining when they arrived at ISU. Working under Speer's direction, students have taken pencil-sized core samples of several trees for study and ground crews cut cross-sections from three ash trees that were removed from a campus tree row along Seventh Street. By counting rings in the samples, researchers can determine how many years the borers have been inside the tree.

The emerald ash borer appeared in the United States in the 1990s and was identified in 2002 as being the cause of ash tree deaths, killing nearly 100 percent of the ash trees it come across. The borer has spread rapidly in the central and eastern United States. They are wreaking havoc as far west as Colorado, as far northeast as New Jersey and as far south as Georgia. Signs of the ash borers were first noticed on Indiana State's campus about three years ago.

The insects can travel through various mediums, Speer said. "They can be spread so easily - all it takes is one infected piece of wood and it can begin to spread," Speer said. "They can also travel on vehicles and through the wind."

Students are getting hands on experience in research, Speer said.

"It is fun learning what scientists do in these research projects," Brown said. "It really is one of my favorite things about ISU. We aren't only learning, we are helping ISU and Terre Haute community."

Photo: - Indiana State University students Yitong Jiang (left), who is pursuing a Ph.D. in geography and spatial sciences; Sabrina Brown, a science education and earth and environmental systems major; and Rose Newton, a biology major, examine a cross-section of a tree that was dying as a result of the emerald ash borer. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - Indiana State University students Sabrina Brown, Rose Newton and Yitong Jiang obtain core samples from an ash tree so they can study the effect of the emerald ash borer without destroying the tree. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Contact: Jim Speer, professor of geography and geology, department of earth and environmental systems, Indiana State University, 812-237-2257 or

Writer: Dustyn Fatheree, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or