To save Ohio’s ash trees, local study pins hopes on Asian wasps

New Asian wasp shows hope for saving ash trees across Ohio
Updated: Jul. 2, 2020 at 8:46 PM EDT
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OXFORD, Ohio (FOX19) - You may be familiar with the emerald ash borer, a beetle that’s responsible for killing many of Ohio’s ash trees. Well, a new wasp is showing promise that it could kill the emerald ash borer — and save the ash trees.

Ash trees make up for 10 percent of all trees in Ohio. They’re important in woodworking and also making our forests plentiful and pretty, but they’ve been dying thanks to the ash borer.

“The insects respect no property boundaries,” Hefner Museum of Natural History Director Steve Sullivan explained. “They’re going to infect our forests from coast to coast if we don’t stop them.”

That’s exactly what a new study hopes to do: stop the emerald ash borer from killing trees.

On John and Bobbi Kinne’s 50 acre tree farm in Oxford Township, they have a good supply of both healthy and dead ash trees.

“I think it’s beautiful to look at!” Kinne exclaimed.

Not only are they beautiful, they’re useful to humans and those living in the forest. The trees are used for baseball bats and household furniture.

“Ash is a really important component of our ecosystems,” continued Sullivan. “It’s important to provide food, water and shelter for all sorts of native insects, mammals and birds. But it’s also industrially important.”

Kinne agreed: “They’re an important component of the woods. We have the woods for timber production, but we also have it for recreation, for beauty and for ecology.”

These Asian wasps aren’t like the murder hornets or even normal wasps you may be thinking about. They’re tiny and do not hurt humans. Their only purpose is to kill the emerald ash borer.

“These wasps are a really cool organism,” explained Sullivan. “They’re about half the size of a mosquito, and they lay their eggs inside the caterpillars of the emerald ash borers when they’re doing their dirty work in here.”

Then they explode when they mature and kill the ash borers.

The wasps are being planted on private land like Kinne’s through a collaboration with the USDA, the Forestry Department and Miami University.

Graduate student Alisha Singleton is in charge of studying the progress of these wasps to see if they’re really doing their job here in Ohio. She’s learning a lot about these Asian wasps through research right here in Oxford.

“I am a background zoologist,” said Singleton. “I don’t know a lot about botany or invertebrates, so I’m learning a lot outside of my comfort level.”

The ultimate goal is for these wasps to spread through the state of Ohio and beyond. Once they eliminate the emerald ash borer, they will die too. Then we can all enjoy a hike, bike or walk through the woods under these beautiful trees.

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