Ash dieback: Research, funding and policy news – 19 December 2014

19th Dec 2014

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The Future of Tree Health

Ancient mainstays of our woodlands, hedgerows and parklands are at risk from a surge of pests and diseases – but a new research programme is bringing experts together from many fields to find solutions.


Preventing biodiversity loss due to ash dieback disease

A new study of woodlands across the UK reveals that, as Chalara ash dieback disease progresses, encouraging the growth of other broadleaved trees as alternatives to ash could protect the almost 1000 species of plants and animals which usually use ash trees for food and habitat.


Invertebrate species at risk from ash dieback in the UK

Ash Dieback, a disease of Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) trees caused by the ascomycete, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus, was first noticed in the UK in February 2012 and has since been found through much of the country. Evidence from elsewhere in Europe suggests that most infected Ash trees succumb to the disease and, hence, UK woodlands and landscapes are at risk of large scale changes. A wide range of taxa either depends on Ash or makes significant use of it and is likely to be detrimentally affected if the UK’s Ash trees are seriously depleted. Invertebrate species that use Ash exclusively or are highly associated with the tree were identified from existing literature. We categorised 36 invertebrate species as “obligate” on Ash in the UK and a further 38 as “highly associated”. Hemiptera, Diptera and Lepidoptera were the most significant groups amongst the obligate species with Coleoptera, Lepidoptera and Diptera dominating the highly associated species. Most obligate species are phytophagous in their use of Ash. Highly associated species were evenly split between those that are phytophagous and those classified as saproxylic with a smaller number of species employing a range of additional feeding strategies. Among highly associated species that are phytophagous, Privet (Ligustrum sp.) was the most frequent alternative plant used. This and other alternative trees and shrubs could be used to help mitigate the effects of Ash Dieback in limited localised situations, where rare species might be affected. Additional suggestions for managing the impact of Ash Dieback on invertebrates are discussed.


Tree Disease in the United Kingdom: A Briefing and the Case for Intervention

Report by Natural Ecology Mitigation Ltd.


The potential for field studies and genomic technologies to enhance resistance and resilience of British tree populations to pests and pathogens

Genetic research on the interactions of temperate tree hosts with pests and pathogens, and breeding for resistance or low susceptibility, are hindered by the long generation time and large size of tree species. Foresters need to be quick to exploit new technologies that may accelerate research and breeding programmes, and opportunistic in gaining maximum use from existing experimental tree plots. A fruitful approach may be to apply new genomic methods to the analysis of established provenance and progeny trials, seed orchards and clonal archives, where screening for pests and pathogens may occur. An important test case of this approach is underway in Britain with respect to ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) and the search for resistance to the dieback caused by Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (T. Kowalski) Baral, Queloz, Hosoya, comb. nov. This review examines: (1) the use of field trials for pathogen and pest resistance in forest trees, (2) how field trials may support the application of genomic technologies to tree health issues, (3) the extent of the field trial resource in Britain, (4) issues that constrain the use and maintenance of field trials, (5) an outline of possible experimental designs, (6) the use of natural systems and (7) funding of long-term trials. Application of the latest technologies may be critically dependent on the availability of well-designed and maintained, long-term, field trials that produce invaluable resources and results for decades.


PhD studentship: The genomic basis of ash dieback tolerance

In partnership with the Forestry Commission’s research arm, Forest Research, this PhD project will exploit genomic technologies to accelerate the development of ash trees that can resist or tolerate ash dieback, caused by the fungal pathogen Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus.

The project will be co-supervised by Dr Richard Buggs, who led the NERC-funded British Ash Tree Genome Project at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), and Dr Steve Lee, Programme Leader for Genetic Improvement at Forest Research. Genomic and transcriptomic approaches will be used to seek understanding of the genetic basis for patterns of tolerance/susceptibility of ash trees to ash dieback in large-scale plantations of ash carried out by Forest Research in 2013, funded by Defra.

The PhD student will join a vibrant lab at QMUL working on tree genomics, and benefit from the expertise and resources of Forest Research and the wider scientific community working on ash dieback.

Deadline for applications: 11th January 2015.


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