Beekeepers’ insects killing pines

Thousands of Greek pine trees are withering away every day because of infestation from huge numbers of insects that past governments encouraged beekeepers to import, experts told Sunday’s Kathimerini. The Marchalina hellenica, an insect found in the eastern Mediterranean, survives by sucking the sap from pine trees, secreting a white cotton-like wax in the process. The honeydew produced by the insect is a significant source of food for bees, and keepers believe it helps provide them with up to 8,000 tons of pine honey each year. Overall, the insect is thought to account for some 60 percent of Greece’s honey. However, since 1996 Greek beekeepers have been engaged in a large-scale artificial infestation of pine forests, but the trees have been burdened by the insect and are gradually dying out. The project received some 2.1 million euros in EU funds, which was used to infest over 15,000 hectares of pine forest. However, experts say that the country’s pines are now under threat because of the initiative. «There is a serious problem, as the existence of a parasite such as Marchalina hellenica maximizes the risks to the forest, as it sucks the sap from the tree in order to survive, thereby weakening the tree,» said the Forestry Director of the Hania Prefecture, Vassilis Kasiotakis. Under a law passed in 1981, local authorities are only allowed to clean the trees of the honeydew secretions by using water at high pressure. However, forestry experts are now advising against this method because it damages the trees and does little to kill off the insects. They have suggested the trees instead be sprayed with a concoction of natural oils, containing extracts of thyme and lentisk, which forces the insects to leave the trees.