Keeping woodlands in Wales and Ireland healthy

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Biological warfare against forest pests in Wales – revealed at National Botanic Gardens (14-02-2012)

Scientists, foresters and land managers from across Wales, the UK and Ireland will be converging on the National Botanic Gardens next week as the latest developments in biological warfare against insect pests in Welsh forests are revealed.
Researchers from the Aberystwyth led IMPACT project have discovered new methods which could cut the damage caused by some of the major pests of forests and woodlands in Wales and elsewhere by half.

And they will be announcing their latest findings based on using a cocktail of the pest’s natural enemies - microscopic nematode worms and fungi – in the fight against the number one pest of British and European forestry, the pine weevil, Hylobius abietis.

Leading land use scientists and managers will be joining the team from IMPACT as part of a Stakeholder Group addressing how research can identify and provide solutions to key pest problems at the National Botanic Gardens in Llanarthne for an all day briefing session on Tuesday 17 January.

IMPACT is a Forest Research in Wales led project, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A), with match funding from Forestry Commission Wales.

Although the IMPACT Stakeholder Group will consider a wide range of topics, the IMPACT scientists will focus on Hylobius.

“Hylobius can kill up to half the young trees after re-planting,” said Professor Hugh Evans, Head of Forest Research in Wales and co-ordinator of the project. “Now latest results from trials suggest that a cocktail of insect-killing natural agents can be used to attack and kill the larvae, pupae and young adult Hylobius, reducing the pest population by at least 50 per cent,” he said.

The IMPACT researchers have drafted in reinforcements for the microscopic nematode worms that are already part of the armoury for Forestry Commission Wales in its battle against the weevil.

“Building on the pioneering work of our project partners at Swansea University, led by Professor Tariq Butt, we are testing insect-killing fungi alongside the nematodes, both on their own and in a cocktail of nematodes and fungi, at reduced concentrations compared to using them separately,” said Professor Evans.

“Results are highly promising giving excellent natural control, further reducing the need for chemical protection of young trees,” said Professor Evans.
All biological control agents tested are commercially available and are approved for field use.

Forest Research in Wales is looking at improved pest control measures through 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 forest and woodland pests.

“As the climate becomes warmer and wetter, the conditions may improve for Hylobius and other pests, so it is important that we should have even more effective controls,” he said.

The IMPACT scientists expect future weather extremes – drought, flooding, higher and lower temperatures – to put woodlands under increasing levels of stress.

Increased stress lowers the defences of trees, opening them up to attack from insect pests such as the pine weevil, 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.

The key will be biological control integrated into novel monitoring regimes, concentrating especially on microbial control agents – fungi, bacteria, viruses and parasitic nematodes.

The IMPACT partnership already has a strong track record in use of these agents and expects to deliver improved technology to any land users whose trees are at risk from pest infestations.

12.01.2012

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