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Destructive beetle imperils Canada's eastern forests

The mountain pine beetle responsible for the destruction of pristine forests on Canada's Pacific coast in recent years is marching eastward, ecologists warned Tuesday.

University of Alberta biologists and geneticists said the beetle has been found in jack pine north of Edmonton after jumping species from the lodgepoll pine of westernmost Canada.

Jack pines are the main tree in Canada's boreal forest, which stretches from the Yukon territory to the island province of Newfoundland.

The researchers fear there is nothing stopping the infestation from reaching the Atlantic coast, said the study published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology.

"Jack pine is the dominant pine species in Canada's boreal forest," said research team member Janice Cooke. "Its range extends east from Alberta all the way to the Maritime provinces."

The bug, which is about the size of a grain of rice, attacked more than 155,000 square kilometers (60,000 square miles) of forests in British Columbia and killed 675 million cubic meters (23.8 billion cubic feet) of timber.

The hard-shelled insects spread by flying and with the aid of wind currents. Researchers currently have no estimate for the speed at which the insect might continue to spread eastward.