The Battle of the Beetles
With a forest under siege, a Vancouver Island biologist fights back with the help of Paint Shop Pro
If there is any question that global warming is a reality, it doesn’t seem to exist in Doug Linton’s mind. For the past ten years, he’s been charged with documenting and researching an infestation that is a direct result of increasingly comfy winters: The invasion of bark beetles in British Columbia’s lodgepole pine forests. The crisis has now reached epidemic proportions, affecting a full one quarter of BC’s forested area. “Usually, the severe cold kills off enough of the population over the winter to keep the numbers under control,” Linton said, “But with milder winters, the bark beetle numbers have continued to grow.” This isn’t a problem that most people are aware of – unless they work in the timber industry. It is estimated that the epidemic will result in a loss of $6 billion dollars in timber revenues before it dies out.
Linton, a Vancouver Island native who graduated with a degree in biology in 1971 and got a job with the Canadian Forest Service soon after, has been keeping tabs on these pesky critters since 1976. His task is to photograph and document the varieties of bark beetle species and how they interrelate. “There are thirty different species of bark beetle,” Linton explained. “The species work together, each with their different strengths and weaknesses. For example, one species might come along, attack a tree and thus prepare a habitat for secondary species, which come later. The next may then attack and reproduce without having to overcome the host tree’s resistance.” Particularly troublesome is the variety known as the Mountain Pine Beetle. “This beetle kills its host, the tree, versus finding a tree that is already weakened or dead,” Linton said.
Figuring out exactly what variety of beetle they’re dealing with is critical to those involved in the counter-attack: forest service staff, scientists, and researchers. That’s where Linton’s work comes in. He provides a key, made of photographic images, that display the microscopic differences between the species. The tricks of his trade? A microscope, a camera, and Paint Shop Pro.
“I put a specimen under a microscope,” Linton said. “I focus on the top surface, then snap a picture, focus down another layer, then snap another picture. The trick is to focus in very small increments.” When the process is done, Linton uses Paint Shop Pro to gather the in-focus portions of as many as ten images into one composite “micrograph,” a micro-detailed photograph of the subject.
“I’ve used Paint Shop Pro ever since the beginning – version one or two,” Linton says, “I’ve been extremely happy with it. It’s more instinctive than other graphics programs.” Linton also uses Paint Shop Pro for his non-buggy hobbies. “I have several hobbies: sea-kayaking, ‘black powder’ shooting, antique cars. I make posters with Paint Shop Pro when we have special events or meetings.”
As for the battle of the bark beetles, according to Linton only Mother Nature can save us now. “The scary thing would be if the beetles spread over the Rocky Mountains; then there is the potential for an infestation all the way across Canada,” he said. A few wayward explorers have already been identified on the eastern side of the Rockies. The natural predators of the bark beetles, such as woodpeckers, are simply unable to keep up. “What we really need is a severe winter,” Linton said, “that’s pretty much the only thing that will do the job.” Until that time, Linton, armed with his microscope, camera, and Paint Shop Pro, will remain in the trenches.