It appears that bark beetles are attacking more than just the trees.

Research conducted outside Steamboat Springs has found that the beetles that have decimated pine and spruce forests throughout the western United States have also inadvertently contributed to the air quality problems that plague much of the region.

Lodgepole pines infested with bark beetles can release 5 to 20 times the amount of gases that can contribute to haze and airborne particulate matter than non-infested trees, according to a study published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“When thinking about bark beetle infestations maybe we need to think about not just the forest but what is it going to do to air quality and climate change,” said Kara Huff Hartz, one of the study’s authors, from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she is an assistant professor.

The gases released by the infested trees, called volatile organic compounds, can contribute to the formation of particulate matter air pollution, which can cause human health problems and affect climate change. Why exactly the infestations result in higher emissions of these volatile organic compounds is still not clear, said Huff Hartz.

From The Daily Sentinel: