Thousands of trees dying at Georgia's Hunting Island State Park

A tiny beetle is responsible for the death of thousands of trees at Hunting Island State Park and elsewhere along the coast, experts say.

Nearly all of the island's redbay trees have been killed since an Asian beetle, believed to cause the fungus "laurel wilt," first appeared in late 2005, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service researchers report. Redbays are one of a few species of native coastal trees that include the more well-known live oaks.

More than 2,000 trees have been removed in three years on Hunting Island because they were considered a safety hazard and source for further infection, according to Stephen Fraedrich, a researcher studying the infestation.

The infected redbays resemble trees suffering during droughts. The redbays on Hunting Island have lost most of their leaves and the intact leaves are brown, said Friends of Hunting Island president Bonnie Wright. Friends of Hunting Island is a group of volunteers who work on beautification and preservation projects.

"It's just devastating to see what this beetle has done," Wright said.

Redbay ambrosia beetles leave behind the laurel wilt fungus, which ultimately kills the redbays. Because the beetle isn't native to the coast, there are no natural predators to hinder its spread, according to the Forest Service reports.

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