Tracking Trees With GPS – Yes, Trees!

gps_tracking_treesSo, if trees don’t actually move, how are biologists tracking trees with GPS? It all began with the hemlock tree – more specifically, Cumberland Plateau hemlock trees.

These trees are under close watch by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation scientists. Why? To try and protect the hemlocks from the ‘hemlock woolly adelgid’ – an aphid introduced to the Cumberland Plateau area in 1951.

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (a microscopic bug) originated in Asia, and eventually made its way to the east coast of the United States, creeping in from the Appalachian and Great Smokey Mountains. How can something so small make such a big impact on the forest? Such a big impact that scientists have started to track trees with GPS trackers?

These bugs feed off of the trees thanks to what is called a ‘stylet,’ something like a stinger, which they stick right into the branches of evergreen trees. These stingers allow the bugs to dine on the delicious sap contained within these trees. Scientists believe that the saliva from the insects is injected into the trees while the bugs feed. This, in turn, leads to the destruction of the trees. It takes 3 to 7 years after the aphids first begin feeding for the trees to show visible signs of deterioration.

No other creature feeds on the aphids, which means that these bugs can simply continue feeding and multiplying quickly. These bugs move from tree to tree on the backs of bids, too! Scientists are at a loss, since it is not possible to really diminish the population of aphids. Currently, scientists are charged with the responsibility of saving the evergreen trees – and, consequently, the state’s forests.

GPS To The Rescue

Where do GPS trackers come into play? Using a handheld GPS tracker, scientists are moving from evergreen to evergreen mapping the specific location of each tree. Once a tree has been mapped, that tree is marked with paint. In addition, the paint marks signify that scientists have injected a specific type of pesticide into each marked tree.

The pesticide, called Imidacloprid, enters a tree’s circulatory system, which kills off any bugs that attempt to feast on the trees. This is a really big and time consuming job that has been made a lot simpler with the help of GPS software.

Keeping Biodiversity Intact

This part of the Cumberland Plateau is home to 1,100 species of plants, what one scientist says is more than “many small European countries.” Trees are so important to this area because of wildlife diversity. Birds, snails, and many different varieties of inverebrates feed on the fallen leaves of dogwood trees, which contain calcium critical to tree survival.

If the aphids or any other insect would threaten the dogwood trees, an important food source would disappear from the landscape, causing a deadly ripple effect in the area’s ecosystem.

So you see, even trees can benefit from the GPS tracking device. What can GPS tracking do for you? While you’re here, don’t forget to take a look at our selection of GPS trackers too!


Photo By Jonny Goldstein Via Flickr Creative Commons