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Saving Trees by Stemming Beetles


International efforts to protect forests have been given a boost by a unique information initiative headed by a University of Ulster scientist. Leading a four-year project compiling research by 100 European scientists, Coleraine-based researcher Dr Keith Day has co-edited a landmark publication providing essential information aimed at saving trees from bark-devouring insects, some of which transmit virulent fungi such as Dutch elm disease.

"The result is that forest research organisations in Europe now have a consolidated, state-of-the-art single volume in which they will find all the most recent data from Europe’s top specialists. This is a major advance on what we had before - scientific research which was disparate, often unconnected and in 21 languages," he said. "The outcome is a clear message on research priorities from the 100 scientists in 24 countries who participated in the research effort," explained Dr Day, who is a Reader at the School of Environmental Sciences, Coleraine.

Forests are an essential ingredient in global ecology, for example in easing the greenhouse effect and as a wildlife habitat. They are a mainstay industrial resource and everyday natural amenity. Governments and forestry managers need up-to-the minute data on insects such as aggressive bark beetles that can destroy large areas of mature forest. The elm bark beetle, which carries the Dutch elm fungus, has been responsible for wiping out many mature elms in Britain and Ireland in the past 20 years.

Protecting our natural resources is what this research is about," said Dr Day who wrote several chapters of the new book and co-edited it with Professor Francois Lieutier, of the University of Orleans. The project was funded by the European Commission.

Some insects hit particular parts of Europe. In Norway, Sweden and France, the spruce bark beetle is a major problem but is not a pest in Ireland. "The spruce bark beetle could have a significant impact if it ever established in our forests. By understanding what causes its prevalence elsewhere, it is possible to minimise the risk here," he said. In Ireland, where only six per cent of the land is forested and efforts are being made to increase the forest area, the main problem is the pine weevil. It damages newly planted seedling coniferous trees by feeding on their bark.

"There has been a tendency for countries and interests to manage their forests along political rather than biogeographical lines. Part of the problem has been that research has been so dispersed, conducted nationally, in different languages and uncoordinated internationally. Important transnational research has not been getting to the people who are in a position to turn it into remedial and positive action.

"Now for the first time we have an important database that brings together the work of all these experts, setting out their methodologies, harnessing their research results and creating, between the covers of one book, a shared information resource that can be used by various agencies in devising ways of protecting our forests."

Dr Day said the pine weevil is difficult to deal with, and many countries rely on insecticides to combat it - despite that method being undesirable from an environmental standpoint. "Through the research assembled in this book, we estimate the cost of pine weevil damage would be more than Euro 140 million per year if pesticides had to be abandoned," he said.

Government policy-makers, forestry managers, commercial timber interests and ecological researchers across the world are likely to draw on the book’s information and its suggestions for further research into management. Dr Day said the aim should be economically effective pest management that maintains the traditional forest ecosystem.

"Nearly 100 species of insects, the majority beetles, derive their sustenance from the bark of living trees in Europe. Quite a few insect species are under threat as a result of modern forest management practices which encourage clearance of dying timber, suppression of natural fire episodes or simultaneously clear cutting large areas of forest," Dr Day said.

The book, Bark and Wood Boring Insects in Living Trees is published by Kluwer Academic Publishers.

David Young | alfa
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