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Scientists seek to safeguard trees

University researchers are taking part in a UK initiative to help protect forests and trees.

Edinburgh scientists are to join a £1.4 million project to help trees adapt to and resist novel pests and diseases.

They will seek to do this both by understanding why disease problems have increased so dramatically, and by pinpointing tree genes that confer resistance to damage.

Their work, led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, will focus on the health of Scots pine, especially the threat of the potentially devastating Dothistroma needle blight.

Danger to pines

Since the 1990s, Dothistroma has caused massive damage to exotic pine plantations throughout the UK.

It is now infecting what were previously thought to be resistant native Scots pine in the iconic Caledonian pinewoods of Scotland.

Researchers say the increased severity of the disease may be linked to changing climate, importation of a virulent pathogen strain, and evolution of Dothistroma related to nursery management and growth of susceptible exotic pines.

Also taking part in the study are Scotland's Rural College Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Forest Research Roslin, the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute Aberdeen.

The project is one of seven being undertaken by scientists across the UK to help safeguard the nation’s trees.

Emerging threats

In the past few years, an increase in trade in plants has enabled new pests and diseases to enter the UK.

Climate change may also be increasing the risk of pests and diseases taking hold and spreading among trees and plants.

The Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI) projects will seek to counter these threats by identifying potential strategies to control, mitigate or adapt to them.

Wider impacts

Researchers hope the projects will also lead to better understanding of the environmental, economic and social impacts of changes in tree health.

THAPBI is supported by a series of partners, including the Living With Environmental Change Partnership.

Also backing the project are the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Economic and Social Research Council, Forestry Commission, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government.

New insights into tree pests and diseases will help us conserve important species such as Scots pine, and allow us to formulate strategies for protecting our much-loved woods and forests.

Richard EnnosSchool of Biological Sciences