New approaches for the early detection of tree health pests and pathogens

Lead Research Organisation: Forest Research
Department Name: Centre for Ecosystems Soc and Biosecur

Abstract

The UK's forests, woods and trees are under threat from a growing number of pests and diseases. Many of these threats are alien; historically not present in the UK and having been introduced from overseas. Some of these threats may reach the UK naturally i.e. as wind-borne spores from continental Europe; potentially one pathway for introduction of the disease ash die-back. The alternative and probably more common pathway of introduction is via human activity, especially trade; for example moving infected plants (another pathway identified for ash die-back) or through the shipping of goods associated with infested timber (as was the case with the recent introduction of the Asian long-horn beetle into Kent in packaging crates for stone). These cases clearly demonstrate that we need to do more to improve our nation's biosecurity and protect our plants and trees; both cultivated and in the wider environment.
In order to do this we need better methods for detecting these pests and diseases that allow us to find them earlier and with greater efficiency. By detecting these threats earlier you can minimize the damage they cause, by either preventing an outbreak occurring in the first place or by finding it early and then stopping it from establishing and spreading further. At present we rely on trained inspectors to find these alien pests and pathogens, mainly via visual inspections of imported plants and plant-based products e.g. timber. However, given the volume of inspections required, the finite amount of resource available and the huge practical challenges associated with these inspections, this task is extremely difficult and the efficiency of detection is low.
This project is designed to change that situation by providing better methods for detecting tree pests and pathogens; both moving in trade and in the environment. It will look at new technologies for the detecting changes in infected plants; using either 'sniffer' technology to identify differences in the volatile chemicals given off by diseased and healthy plants or imaging techniques that can detect changes beyond the range of human vision. It will also look at developing and designing novel traps for capturing insects and DNA-based detection approaches that look for air- and water-borne pathogens. This will include better approaches for trapping spores and then applying high-throughput sequencing methods that will allow the identification of not only known pathogens but also new ones too.
However, developing these new technologies is only part of the challenge. It is also necessary to make sure these new methods are fit-for-purpose and that they work in a way that meets the needs of those enforcing tree health regulations (e.g. government), those upon who those regulation impact (e.g. woodland owners and industry) and the end-users who would be expected to use these new tools (e.g. inspectors in the field). We will also examine what type of end-users could be involved; this could be trained government inspectors (the traditional approach) or alternatives such as those working in the industry, volunteers or even the general public. So looking to see if a so-called 'citizen science' approach could be used for any of these new approaches.
It is also important to ensure that these new approaches can be deployed effectively, for example at locations that pose the greatest risk, and in a way that offers the best cost-benefit (i.e. the best balance between cost of using the technology and the improvements it can offer in terms of better pest and disease detection). In order to do this, we will take an interdisciplinary approach; getting experts from many different fields e.g. biology, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, physics, economics and social science, to work together to come up with the best overall solution that works technically, economically and socially.

Technical Summary

This project has 6 work packages (WP), each based around a different combination of skills and expertise. For WP2-6 there will be a focus on a particular detection technology, while WP1 will provide the technical oversight needed for effective deployment of these different technologies, as summarised:
WP1:a participatory interdisciplinary approach will be used to evaluate the needs of stakeholders and to ensure that the technologies meet these. It will also focus on the requirements of effective technology deployment, using mathematical modeling to develop sampling strategies, to create network-based risk maps and economic assessments of cost-effectiveness. Further aspects of deployment will be analysed using social science approaches including end-user acceptability and the potential for using citizen science.
WP2:analytical chemistry approaches will be used to identify diagnostic volatile organic compounds produced by pests, pathogens and diseased hosts and to translate these onto commercial-available portable platforms for use by inspectors in the field.
WP3:multispectral imaging will be used to identify markers for the early detection of biotic/abiotic stress in plants. A prototype bioimaging camera will be constructed that can be used to validate this approach in the field.
WP4:will develop mathematical models of spore movement and investigate metagenomics for broad-spectrum surveillance utilizing existing monitoring networks e.g. pollen traps. In addition, a novel integrated cyclone-based trapping and molecular detection system will be developed and evaluated.
WP5:novel semiochemical attractants will be identified for a range of wood-boring beetle pests, incorporated into traps designed for efficient detection and then deployed in a risk-based network.
WP6:methods for sampling and rapid screening water for Phytopthora spp., including 'unknowns' will be developed and validated. This will combine high-throughput sequencing with a rapid bioinformatic.

Planned Impact

The interdisciplinary design of this proposal will ensure maximum ongoing impact. Central to this is stakeholder engagement and our proposal has adopted a novel approach to facilitate this. Traditional approaches to developing new detection or diagnostic technologies have assumed the 'build it and they will come' approach; where the focus is on the technical aspects of the novel methodology, rather than the needs of end-users and the specifics of how it will be effectively deployed. This proposal reverses that by taking an inclusive view of what is required to achieve a successful outcome i.e. the deployment of a new technology that improves our biosecurity, and then co-designs technologies which fit that purpose. It achieves this by embracing an interdisciplinary approach and through establishing early engagement with stakeholders and end-users. Critical to this is the creation of a Learning Platform (Work package 1) which sits at the core of the project and cuts across the other technology-driven work packages (WPs 2-6). This platform will create communication channels, facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing across work packages and stakeholder groups, actively disseminating project outcomes and enabling the pathways to impact. This will be delivered as a series of workshops; both cross-cutting (looking at the broader issues associated with detection and its successful deployment) and more focused (looking at specific issues associated with a particular technology and the contexts for its use). In addition to interacting with stakeholders (e.g. policy-makers, inspectors, NGOs, industry), this approach will use the breadth of expertise established within the consortium and assembled from across a wide-range of disciplines. This brings together 'technology-owners' (natural and physical scientists) with 'technology-evaluators' (mathematical and social sciences) to ensure that the best technological approaches are married with suitable sampling and risk-based deployment strategies, that they have stakeholder acceptability and offer genuine cost-efficiency benefits to public and private stakeholders alike.

In addition to the novel approach built into the project design, the effective delivery of impact will also benefit from a consortium which has an extremely strong track record of delivering translation science, to policy and industry alike. As government science agencies, the major remit for both Fera and Forest Research is to take science and technology and to translate it into policy-focused tools and evidence. This is a role they provide routinely for Defra and Forestry Commission, and their associated inspectors on the frontline in the field (e.g. Fera PHSI and FC Inspectors). In terms of delivery of technologies to end-users including industry, there is also a strong track record across the consortium in a whole range of contexts e.g. Worcester (horticulture industry diagnostics), JHI (potato industry diagnostics), Greenwich (pest trap deployment) and Fera (field diagnostics deployment). The integration of a number of SMEs within the consortium is another pathway to impact; providing a route for new technologies to be made freely available beyond the end of the project. Finally as plant and tree health sits within a European regulatory framework, the ability to engage with international partners and stakeholders is important. The consortium has a wealth of experience and contacts in this area, in particular through its central role in a range of related EU-funded projects e.g. Q-Detect (Fera-led), ISEFOR (Aberdeen-led) and PERMIT (FR-led). It will also build upon existing systems for knowledge exchange within our region, especially through the use of the European Plant Protection Organization (EPPO). By working with EPPO, using activities such as its workshops and conferences, we will be able to reach out to tree health practitioners across Europe; in many cases the real frontline for UK biosecurity.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Excellent science is required to develop new and emerging technologies. However, evidence suggests that socio-technological innovation also demands interactions across academics, end users and those involved in commercial development and marketing. Theoretically, stakeholder engagement can enhance the efficacy of new technologies, increase buy in and improve relationships and understanding between groups. This was the premise of our involvement, as social scientists, in a large, complex research project developing five cutting edge technologies for early detection of tree pests and pathogens. Our role included development of a Learning Platform to facilitate a 'participatory interdisciplinarity' approach to technology maturity. We supported large, interactive annual workshops using novel approaches (e.g. a Dragon's Den, Pecha Kucha, café sessions, technology markets) and Socio-technological Learning Labs (e.g. at Heathrow, Southampton docks). A series of interviews and focus group discussions with scientists and others have allowed us to understand barriers and opportunities for promoting scientific and social aspects of technological development. We tracked 'scientific progress' against adapted Diagnostic Technology Readiness Levels. It appears that whilst scientists are changing their thinking, they are struggling to change their practices due to limitations of time, confidence and opportunity. Targeted, time sensitive stakeholder engagement is preferred whilst the more diffuse benefits of broader social learning remain difficult to defend. We employ nexus thinking to discuss our results within theoretical frameworks appropriate to socio-technological innovation and innovation theory.
Exploitation Route Publication in peer reviewed journals, conference presentations, stakeholder workshops, interactions with other research teams, newsletter, policy maker meetings.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://protectingtreehealth.org.uk
 
Description We have held Learning Platform Workshops at which stakeholders have engaged and developed new networks and knowledge. Impacts have thus been conceptual, connective, capacity and instrumental.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Strategic priorities fund - Bacterial plant diseases programme
Amount £5,500,000 (GBP)
Funding ID CA792 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 03/2021
 
Description Involvement in new project proposal 
Organisation Scion
Country New Zealand 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Collaborating on a proposal for better biosecurity practice in New Zealand. if successful, would cover 0.1% of my time. I have contributed to the social science aspects of the propsal
Collaborator Contribution Putting the overall bid together
Impact Outcome will hopefully be a successful bid
Start Year 2017
 
Description Writing a collaborative journal article on Citizen science approach for plant health 
Organisation Lincoln University
Department Bio Protection Research Centre
PI Contribution We will al be contributing data from our LWEC or other international projects to the journal article. Contributing to structure of journal article and writing sections related to data from this project
Collaborator Contribution We will al be contributing data from our LWEC or other international projects to the journal article
Impact The output will take the form of a collaborative journal article for Citizen Science Theory and Practice ethics species issue
Start Year 2018
 
Description Writing a collaborative journal article on Citizen science approach for plant health 
Organisation Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We will al be contributing data from our LWEC or other international projects to the journal article. Contributing to structure of journal article and writing sections related to data from this project
Collaborator Contribution We will al be contributing data from our LWEC or other international projects to the journal article
Impact The output will take the form of a collaborative journal article for Citizen Science Theory and Practice ethics species issue
Start Year 2018
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact White, R.M., Young, J., Marzano, M., and Leahy, S. (2018) Prioritising stakeholder engagement for forest conservation during austerity. Pathways conference presentation, Goslar, Germany 16-19 September 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Learning Platform 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The aim of the Learning Platform is to support learning through sharing and improving knowledge and ideas relating to technology development, commercialisation and implementation and potential economic impacts. It aims to enable greater collaboration between team members across this project and other LWEC projects and with stakeholders. The notion of a 'platform' is the creation of specific spaces for mutual learning, including interactive workshops and an online space for debate.
? Rick Mumford (FERA) welcomed participants from a range of relevant backgrounds and later on described the project, inviting engagement from all stakeholders.
? Nicola Spence (DEFRA) described the policy scene for biosecurity, indicating current high rates of interest and the recent development of a UK Plant health risk register.
? Peter Scotting (SPHSInspector) explained how inspectors worked, including the diversity of inspection areas, information flows and the need for public engagement.
? Robert Clamp (Forest Manager) offered a practical perspective on the 150 man days dealing with tree health in the central belt alone and reminded us of the broader context of longterm tree species selection, climate change and future proofing strategies.
? Small group discussions then focused on what the key issues were with regards to early detection of tree disease. Points emerging included need for: recognition of different detection reasons (monitor spread, identify new entries, manage outbreaks); holistic modeling for prediction; better understanding of life cycles; better sampling protocols and technological products; improved collaborative processes involving scientists, managers, policy makers, citizen scientists; exploration of trade impacts and possible regulation in line with food security approaches.
? A lunchtime technology fair allowed us to try out some new and old gadgets.
? In a Mock Dragons' Den, audience participants responded robustly to brief demonstrations of the five emerging technologies by scientists. Participant feedback sheets showed that whilst all technologies showed potential for use in theory, they were not yet believed to be applicable for practical use by stakeholders.
? Mariella Marzano (Forest Research) encouraged stakeholders to engage with Learning Lab events (demonstration days, conference workshops etc) and future Learning Platforms.
? Claude Kaplan (IP Pragmatics Ltd) encouraged us to debate more vigorously, invite 'new' friends to activities, explore the manufacturer and commercial customer, understand the working context and use technology to change decision making and make a difference.
? Finally, Rick thanked everyone for coming and again invited later engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.protectingtreehealth.org.uk
 
Description Learning Platform 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The meeting was attended by 50 academics, inspectors, foresters, policy makers, commercial representatives and others. Project leader Rick Mumford (Fera) explained how the emerging technologies are testing a diagnostic Technology Readiness Levels (dTRLs) framework. We want to evaluate impact, find an objective method for assessing how close to use a technology sits and assess the resources required for final technology development stages. Different work packages within the project are involved at different TRLs or stages.

Jane Chard (SASA) and Anna Brown (FC Scotland) described the context of tree health in Scotland. Different organisations and institutions exist in different parts of UK. Responsibility sits within countries but with cross UK partnerships and a coordinated approach to enhance efficiencies. This allows for distinctive priorities to develop but is also flexible enough to accommodate for biological movement. There is a risk register and a Tree Health Advisory Group. Citizen science is important and surveillance challenges remain. Detection is only part of the process in determining how we deal with outbreaks.

Bianca Ambrose-Oji (FR) and Jon Hollingdale (Community Woodlands Association) discussed the context of the growing community forestry sector. In Scotland over 200 groups are well networked. They vary from large commercially managed forest groups to small groups with social and conservation interests and include rural and urban examples. Little is known about how these groups engage with tree health. There is potential to spread knowledge and benefit from the engagement and enthusiasm of this network.

Michael Pocock (CEH) discussed recent citizen science initiatives. Citizen science can take different forms including volunteer experts, long term monitoring with standardised protocols or mass participations. However, a) it is difficult to assess recorder coverage, because of assymetric information, and b) there are conflicting motivations; if a group finds pests in their woodland they run the risk of chemical intervention or at worst clear felling in response.

A panel discussion chaired by Mariella Marzano elaborated on some of these challenges, highlighting the dilemmas of 'unknown unknown' as well as 'known unknown' harmful organisms. The use of correct tools for detection was said to be important and the difficulties of effectively sharing detection information were highlighted. The different motivations of different groups (e.g. citizen scientists versus community groups versus commercial nurseries) were discussed.

Each of the 5 technology research groups presented a 5 minute Pecha kucha style update on their technology development. Discussion sought to build on key opportunities and challenges identified in Year 1.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.protectingtreehealth.org.uk
 
Description Participation in social science for tree health and plant biosecurity workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The presentation focussed on Interdisciplinary research across natural and social sciences and aksed if the social science is the theoretical driver, add on unit or just essentially a project manager?
Stakeholder engagement across academics, end users and commercial companies is required for effective socio-technological innovation. There is much theory on good practice stakeholder engagement exist, as people here will know. For us the question was how to pursue good practice whilst developing new theoretical understanding. Are we really doing action research. Based on our experiences and interviews with team members, our analysis implies a new process of research - how we do it not just what we find
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015