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Great Lakes Forestry Centre entomologist receives fitting posthumous honour

Say hello to Xeris degrooti
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20160809 Peter De Groot Plaque at Great Lakes Forestry Centre KA
A plaque commemorating Peter de Groot at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

Not everybody would be thrilled to find out an insect had been named after them.

But some colleagues of the late Peter de Groot felt it was more than fitting to honour the forest entomologist in such a manner.

The Xeris degrooti, a wood wasp in the Siricidae species, was named after de Groot in recognition of his work identifying and understanding this complex insect.

“The insect named after Peter was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota by Dan Miller (U.S. Forest Service, Southern Research Center. Athens, GA) and identified by Henri Goulet (taxonomist, Canadian National Collection, AAFC, Ottawa),” explained Taylor Scarr, director integrated pest management at GLFC.

“The taxonomy of woodwasps is very complicated, relying partly on morphology and DNA,” he continued. “Males and females of the same species can look so different that they are sometimes mistakenly thought to be different species. Peter provided many specimens to Henri over several years so that Henri could revise the taxonomy of this group of insects. Henri then published a book on the woodwasps which is now used as the bible for distinguishing the species.”

Miller and Goulet submitted the nomination to name the insect after de Groot early this year, not only to recognize his contribution to woodwasp identification, but “to acknowledge the contribution in general made by foresters in the biodiversity studies, since foresters are often the source of specimens and are the ones who do the surveys and make collections.”

“It is a high honour for Peter to be honoured in this way by his peers. It is a permanent tribute to the individual,” said Scarr.

Originally from The Netherlands, de Groot and his family emigrated to Canada in 1960.

He completed his Forest Technician Diploma (First Class Honours) at Sault College in 1975, the same year he began his long and distinguished career with the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

He began as a research technician in the virology department, and was later promoted to research forester in the field efficacy section before moving into pest management.

De Groot completed his PhD at Simon Fraser University in 1991.

After working as a research scientist in applied insect ecology, he advanced to senior scientist.

Due to his contributions to the science of forest entomology, he was bestowed with a number of honours, including the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) Excellence in Technology Transfer Award in 1991, the Ontario Federal Council Leadership Through Collaboration Award in 2004, the CFS Merit Award in 2007, and an NRCan Departmental Merit Award for Collaboration and Partnership in 2007.

Throughout his career, de Groot published 69 journal articles, seven books, and is thought to be the only scientist to have published articles on all five of the latest invasive species that threaten Canadian forests – the pine shoot beetle, brown spruce longhorn beetle, emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, and Sirex woodwasp.

He also reportedly began each annual forest research season by hugging a tree, a tradition he continued for 35 years.

De Groot passed away in October 2010 following a battle with cancer.