High up in Lebanon’s mountains, the lifeless grey trunks of dead cedar trees stand stark in the deep green forest, witnesses of the climate change that has ravaged them.
Often dubbed “Cedars of God”, the tall evergreens hark back millennia and are a source of great pride and a national icon in the small Mediterranean country.
The cedar tree, with its majestic horizontal branches, graces the nation’s flag and its bank notes.
But as temperatures rise, and rain and snowfall decrease, Lebanon’s graceful cedars are increasingly under attack by a tiny green grub that feed off the youngest trees.
At 1,800 meters altitude, in the natural reserve of Tannourine in the north of Lebanon, ashen tree skeletons jut out of the forest near surviving cedars centuries old.
“It’s as if a fire had swept through the forest,” says Nabil Nemer, a Lebanese specialist in forest insects.
In ancient times, huge cedar forests were felled for their timber.
Egyptian pharaohs used the wood to make boats, and King Solomon is said to have used cedar to build his temple in Jerusalem.
But today’s culprits lie underground, just several centimeters (inches) below the tree trunk: bright green, wriggling larvae no larger than a grain of rice.
Since the late 1990s, infant cedar sawflies have been eating away at the forest in Tannourine, as well as several other natural reserves in northern Lebanon.
“In 2017, 170 trees dried up completely and became dead wood,” Nemer says.