Climate Change and Tree Deaths

I was reading an article in the ScienceDaily.com dated December 2012 entitled : “As Climate Warms, Bark Beetles March On High-Elevation Forests”

As Scotland has mountain slopes upon which are many pine plantations, I was naturally interested. Here I quote a paragraph:

The mountain pine beetle’s historic host is the lodgepole pine, a tree common at lower elevations. Typically, the insects, which are about the size of a grain of rice, play a key role in regulating the health of a forest by attacking old or weakened trees and fostering the development of a younger forest. However, recent years have been characterized by unusually hot and dry summers and mild winters, which have allowed insect populations to boom. This has led to an infestation of mountain pine beetle described as possibly the most significant insect blight ever seen in North America.

Here we have not had hot summers, but wet summers. 2012 was the wettest recorded since 2000 in England, and in 2000 it was the wettest summer since records began. Here in Scotland, 2012 is the 17th wettest recorded. The warmth and wet this winter has probably been the cause of a massive spike in the spread of Norovirus in England. Climate changes are changing the patterns of bacterial, insect and fungal life on a global scale. In Britain we have fewer forests than other countries in Europe. Losing trees in Britain is like losing limbs from a body. Our ‘green and pleasant land’ would be no more. Genetics and technology applications are being urgently called to work toward a solution to save our dwindling forests, which have already been ravaged by hurricanes which seem to hit more often now.

At the end of 2012 the Forestry Commission provided this information on their website which I have divided between types of blight the trees of the world (with an emphasis here on the UK) are threatened by:

Top pest and disease threats present in Britain

Bacterial
Acute Oak decline – (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-868CUH) – a condition affecting oak trees in parts of England and Wales, in which bacteria, including one species previously unknown to science, are believed to be involved.

Beetle
Asian longhorn beetle (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/HCOU-4U4J45) – A wood-boring insect that can cause extensive damage to a range of urban and forest broadleaved trees.
Great spruce bark beetle (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-868BVP) (Dendroctonus micans) – is present throughout much of the Eurasian region, practically everywhere that spruce trees grow. It was first discovered in Britain in 1982.

Beetle threats not yet present in the natural environment in Britain:
Citrus longhorn beetle (FERA website)- a wood-boring insect that can cause extensive damage to a range of urban and forest broadleaved trees. Very similar in appearance and effects to Asian longhorn beetle (above).
Eight-toothed European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/Forestry/INFD-92HL3T ) – an insect that causes mortality, mostly in spruce trees.

Fungal
Chalara dieback of ash (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-8udm6s) – an aggressive fungal disease of ash trees which causes crown death and wilting and dieback of branches.
Chestnut blight (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-8s5qbf) , a highly damaging disease caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, which was confirmed in sweet chestnut trees in two nut orchards in Warwickshire and East Sussex in 2011.
Dothistroma needle blight (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-74JJFK) – Formerly known as red band needle blight, and caused by the Dothistroma septosporum fungus. Causes mortality and loss of timber yield in pine trees. Main host is Corsican pine, but lodgepole and Scots pine also increasingly affected.
Phytophthora ramorum (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8XLE56) – a fungus-like organism which attacks many trees and plants. The economically important larch is a host, and large numbers have had to be felled.

Moth:
Horse chestnut leaf miner (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-59YJKP) (Cameraria ohridella) – first found in Britain in 2002 in London, this moth’s range has expanded to much of England and Wales.
Oak pinhole borer (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/HCOU-4U4J4S) (Platypus cylindrus) – once rare in Britain, populations grew in the south after the 1987 gales, when it took advantage of the glut of suitable breeding material.
Oak processionary moth (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-74CE39) (Thaumetopoea processionea) – severely defoliates oak trees and can weaken them, making them susceptible to other pests and diseases. Outbreaks in west London and Berkshire.
Pine tree lappet moth (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-7U8DW6) (Dendrolimus pini) – has been discovered breeding in Inverness-shire pine plantation forests. It can be a serious defoliator of pines and other conifer trees in some parts of its native range in Europe and Russia.

Moth threats not yet present in the natural environment in Britain
Pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-924HD6) – a species whose caterpillars can cause serious damage to pine and other conifer trees, and which also cause a public and animal health hazard

Pathogen
Phytophthora austrocedrae (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8RAJZ3) – Confirmed as the cause of dieback and deaths of juniper bushes in Northern England in 2011, this pathogen had previously been almost solely associated with Chilean cedar trees in South America. Juniper’s conservation importance makes this a potentially serious development.
Phytophthora kernoviae (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-66JLGB) – so far confirmed only in Britain, Ireland and New Zealand, and only in a very few trees. However, the fact that it can infect beech and oak, as well as woodland under-storey species such as bilberry and rhododendron, makes it a forestry concern.
Phytophthora lateralis (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8BPLHD) – usually kills most Lawson cypress trees that it infects. First recorded in the UK, in Scotland, in 2010; now present in Devon, Yorkshire, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.


Insect/ Nematode threats not yet present in the natural environment in Britain:

Wood boring insect
Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/epa_emerald_ash_borer.pdf/$FILE/epa_emerald_ash_borer.pdf – a wood-boring insect that causes widespread mortality of ash trees and loss of timber value.

Worm
Pinewood nematode (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/INFD-8TEDC8) – a worm that can cause serious tree damage and mortality.
.

The UK government, like other world governments, is treating this matter seriously with an Action Plan by DEFRA and the Forestry Commission. But, like the previous problem with the Colorado Beetle, they are asking us to be vigilant and let them know if we have seen signs, of Ash Dieback, for example.

The world ecosystem is damaged and will be further damaged by climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels accelerating the melting of the ice caps. As I write this, bush fires burn extensively in Tasmania and New South Wales. Those fires in the rural areas are said to be ‘catastrophic’. The 40 degree plus temperatures (Celsius) are unbearable for many people, and the ecosystem will be breaking under the strain of drought and intense heat.

We cannot take our world for granted and we must look more closely at our environments and understand what is going on. We can change our personal interactions with our world by reducing our CO2 footprint on it. There are 7 billion of us humans with brains. We must ensure that all humans are educated to the point where they feel confident to work toward solutions within and without their own comfort zone.

I may be learning all this a little late in my life, but the discipline of this Blog is maintaining my hard work. 2013 looms with menace but also with challenges which may be met by understanding, and if I understand I may be less likely to panic.

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About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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