Home of the Gators, Gainesville, Florida, was the chosen location for the 2022 Bark & Ambrosia Beetle Academy held in the week of 19-23 October. The ‘beetle gurus’ for this intensive, five-day workshop comprised of some the leading experts in the field from academic institutes and government forestry agencies, including Jiri Hulcr, Sarah M. Smith, Tom Atkinson, Anthony Cognato, Andrew J. Johnson, Shiroma Sathyapala, Robert Rabaglia, Jeffrey Eickwort and Daniel Carrillo. These experts shared their passion for the subject in what can be described as the most comprehensive bark beetle-related event.  The workshop was intended to train participants in the recognition of some of the world’s most common, most invasive, and most pestiferous bark and ambrosia beetles. Participants were eased into the wonderful world of bark and ambrosia beetles with an array of lectures from the experts, in which topics covered included bark and ambrosia beetle nomenclature, evolution, beetle morphology characterisation and various discussions of the most damaging species and their respective management approaches.

Once they had learned the fundamentals, it was time to head to the field and to gain some firsthand insight into the damage caused by these insects. The first stop was at an old Redbay plantation ravaged by Laurel wilt vectored by the Redbay ambrosia beetle. For the second leg, they travelled to a slash pine plantation to collect bark beetles from dead and living trees., Beetles from the genus Ips and Dendroctonus, as well as bark beetle predators from the family Cleridae were collected from the pieces of stripped bark for further identification in the lab. Alternatives, such as ethanol trapping were also discussed as an additional measure to manual beetle collection.

With the fieldwork completed it was time to learn how to identify the beetle specimens with hands-on guided microscope sessions. This involved meticulous inspection of several morphological characteristics of the beetle specimens - from the shape of their eyes to the slope of their elytra. Using reference keys and these subtle morphological differences they were able to correctly identify the collected specimens. To put their newfound knowledge to the test (literally), a written quiz and mystery beetle identification jamboree was held – which all the FABIans passed!

Nine South Africans took part in the workshop including Proff Irene Barnes, Almuth Hammerbacher, Brett Hurley, Francois Roets, Dr Wilma Nel and Kira Lynn, Claire Randolph, Rosa Knoppersen and Garyn Townsend, and everyone would agree that the knowledge they have gained is indispensable! The South Africans were sponsored by the National Research Foundation as part of the Bark Beetle Microbiome project.