The forests and trees of Wales could be under even greater climate change threat than first thought – from some of the tiniest creatures in the world.
And now the Forest Research in Wales Unit has begun working to identify just how great that threat is through a new project - IMPACT – with partners from Swansea University and the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
Top of the agenda for the Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends (IMPACT) team is assessing just how changing climate will influence the damage caused by pests and pathogens, some already here and others potentially brought here through international trade.
"Our aim is to find out what the effects will be on trees, their insect pests, the natural enemies of those pests and the way all three interact," said Dr Hugh Evans, Head of Forest Research in Wales and co-ordinator of the new project, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A), with match funding from Forestry Commission Wales.
"Is the threat going to increase? How do we develop better prediction, monitoring, and identification systems?" Dr Evans added. "And most importantly, how do we best use the weapons provided by nature - microbial control agents such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and insect parasitic nematodes – to combat the threat?"
The Welsh scientists expect future weather extremes – drought, flooding, higher and lower temperatures – to put Welsh woodlands under increasing levels of stress.
And just like humans, increased stress lowers the trees defences, opening them up to attack from insect pests such as bark beetles, wood boring beetles and a wide range of root and leaf feeders, all of which affect tree growth, sometimes leading to tree death.
"We want to improve our ability to predict which pests will get worse under future climates and then to develop ways of monitoring and managing them," said Dr Evans.
The key will be biological control integrated into novel monitoring regimes, concentrating especially on what we call microbial control agents – fungi, bacteria, viruses and parasitic nematodes.
"Our partnership already has a strong track record in use of these agents and we expect to deliver improved technology to any land users whose trees are at risk from pest infestations," he added.
The three year project was launched at Aberystwyth in May and will also be featuring at the Royal Entomological Society Annual meeting at Swansea University - 26-28 July.
NOTES TO EDITORS
IMPACT – Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends
This is a new project which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland - Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A) and part funded by Forestry Commission Wales. The project, called Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends – IMPACT, is led by Forest Research in Wales, a research unit launched in 2009 based at Aberystwyth, with the National University of Ireland at Maynooth and Swansea University. It runs for three years to 31 December 2012.
Forest Research is the research agency of the Forestry Commission. It is a world leader in the research and development of sustainable forestry and is Britain's principal organisation for forestry and tree related research, with specialists covering topics from managing timber, and protecting woodland from climate change, to tracking new pests and diseases, and examining the social and community benefits of woodland in urban and rural areas.
Forest Research in Wales
Hugh Evans leads the newly established Forest Research in Wales Unit based in Aberystwyth, looking at research opportunities within Wales and elsewhere. Interactions with a wide range of stakeholders, particularly with Forestry Commission Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, are being developed both to scope and deliver research and appropriate technology transfer. Links with the research community in Wales, universities and government organisations are also being developed to build collaboration on a range of environmental and land use issues.
Forestry Commission Wales is the government department responsible for forestry policy and looks after the 126,000 hectares (309,000 acres) of the Assembly Government Woodland Estate.
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales