Keeping woodlands in Wales and Ireland healthy

Press Release

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Forest Pests and Climate Change in Irish Woodlands

Irish forestry is threatened by the same climate change that is already equiring Ireland cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, and possibly 30% should a comprehensive international agreement on climate change emerge. Trees, which are seen as a vital facility for taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and providing biomass for industry and power generation, are facing new pest difficulties as climate changes.

Among the most worrying pests and diseases are (examples):

-The large pine weevil (Hylobius abietis) – the single most important insect pest of plantation forestry in northern Europe generally, and in Ireland specifically where it can result in a total loss of replanted seedlings.

-The green spruce aphid (Elatobium abietinum) - believed to be controlled now largely by death in winter cold and so expected to become even greater problem as winters warm. This pest can remove close to a third of the production of attacked trees in any year.

-The fungus Phytophthora ramorum (cause of ‘sudden oak death’). This turned up in Britain in 2009 and was first found in Ireland in 2010, on Japanese larch. It attacks a range of trees elsewhere and so is very threatening.

In response to this climate change/pest problem, both the climate change research facility and the biological control facility at NUI Maynooth have joined with the University of Swansea and the Forestry Commission Wales in the IMPACT project (Integrated Management of forest Pests Addressing Climate Trends). The IMPACT project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland Wales Programme (INTERREG 4A), and COFORD. Stakeholder involvement includes Coillte, Ireland’s largest forestry and forest products company.

The latest information on the pest problems facing forestry – and the preventative and control measures that can be taken – are being spotlighted at a symposium - Insect Pests of Trees: Meeting Future Challenges – at NUI Maynooth on Monday 24 January.

“Most immediately, we need to get better control of Pine Weevil in particular because it is doing so much damage right now” said Dr Christine Griffin, Head of the Biological Control and Behaviour Laboratory, NUI Maynooth and lead developer of insect-killing nematodes for pest and chemical reduction in Irish forests.

“At the same time, we must get ahead of climate change. We need to understand it better, and to predict both tree and pest responses to it much better “ said Professor John Sweeney, director of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units, NUI Maynooth and contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment Report.

“The increasing extremes in our weather – cold, increased rainfall and flooding, a general raising of temperature – are creating the ideal conditions for forest pests,” said Dr Hugh Evans, co-ordinator of the IMPACT project and Head of Forest Research in Wales.

The focus will be on biological control integrated into novel monitoring and climate prediction regimes that will be based on downscaling Global Climate models. Promising microbial control agents include fungi, bacteria, viruses and parasitic nematodes. Latest control measures of the large pine weevil – which can significantly reduce the impact of this pest – emerging pests, biocontrol of soil pests and other issues will be on the agenda. MORE_DETAILS   

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