PuRpOsE: PRotecting Oak Ecosystems: understanding and forecasting causes and consequences, management for future climates

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

Oaks are iconic trees in the UK and throughout much of Europe. Our two native oaks are species that members of the public recognise and which have considerable cultural, economic and biodiversity value. Indeed, we do not yet have the knowledge to understand health threats to oak or prepare for the likely reactions of wider stakeholders and the public. Pedunculate and sessile oak are widespread in the UK. Recently there has been an increase in non-native invasive pathogens and pests establishing in the UK and causing damage and/or death to many tree species. Oaks are under threat from several new pests and diseases, including Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) and Acute Oak Decline (AOD). For some of these, we do not yet understand how they cause decline in oak health and often there is no current treatment other than sanitation felling. We therefore urgently need to identify why trees are becoming more susceptible to pests and diseases and to develop management methods that would help reduce oak susceptibility. A decline in tree health and the potential loss or decline of oaks will have impacts on the plants, animals and humans that use oak trees and/or oak woods. Thus we need to assess the impacts of oak pests and diseases on the wider environment and how we can mitigate the impacts.

PuRpOsE is a research project to PRotect Oak Ecosystems through understanding and forecasting causes and consequences, and adaptation management for future climate projections. Our work to understand interactions between pests, diseases, environments and humans is led by a group of world-leading scientists who will address these issues. One focus of our work is AOD, but the outcomes of this study will provide valuable validation of approaches to other diseases and pests, such as OPM. Our work will increase our understanding of the causes of oak decline (particularly AOD) and determine the physiological and other phenotypic changes brought on by AOD infections and their impact on associated communities in the rhizosphere. We will produce risk maps and stress maps to identify climatic/soil regions where oaks are most at risk from AOD and from other pests and diseases, respectively. We will conduct a horizon scanning exercise, framed within the context of projected future climates, to identify potential new threats to oak health, the risk criteria and management options. Combining knowledge from risk mapping, stress mapping and horizon scanning, we will assess how forest management can reduce oak decline. Mitigation might necessitate replacement planting. Within PuRpOsE we assess tree species that could replace the function oaks have in the landscape in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem functions and the services associated with oak woodlands. Armed with the outputs of this research, we will identify adaptation strategies to reduce the impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services such as carbon storage and water quality, engaging stakeholders in developing dynamic adaptive pathways for management and recreation from the loss of oak. Underpinning all of this work is a strong team commitment to working collaboratively across the natural and social sciences to understand tree health issues as involving pests and pathogens, hosts, environments and humans. The project aims to develop a common language to provide improved knowledge and understanding of health threats to native oaks, now and into the projected climate futures to decision-makers involved in tree health policy regulation, trade and forest policy and practice.

Technical Summary

In the UK, Quercus robur and Q. petraea are under threat from new diseases including Acute Oak Decline (AOD). The PuRpOsE (PRotect Oak Ecosystems) project will improve knowledge and understanding of interactions between pests and diseases, environments and humans related to the health threats to native oaks now and going forward through projected climate futures. We will identify the wider impacts of oak decline on biodiversity, ecosystem function and services, and interactions between institutional stakeholders, to identify policy and practice that will reduce or mitigate these impacts. We will deploy state of the art methodology to identify biotic and abiotic factors that affect tree susceptibility and disease development and determine phenotypic changes brought on by AOD infections. Horizon scanning using expert opinion and novel climate matching tools will identify potential future oak pests/pathogens. We will screen current and new oak silvicultural systems and use existing trials of climate matched provenances and species diversity plots. Together with key stakeholders, we will use the assimilated project knowledge to investigate adaptive management pathways to prevent/slow down oak pest and pathogen impacts. Applying theoretical and methodological innovations in the social sciences relating to tree health issues and complex stakeholder interactions, we will consider how disease 'stories' emerge and how the enthusiasm of actors involved in AOD can help develop collaborative strategies for managing and living with AOD. Working with stakeholders throughout the project we will enable:
1. Policy makers in charge of natural resource planning to understand the risk of oak decline and provide them with evidence-based knowledge to change policies appropriately
2. Managers to feel confident in preparing for change and to start managing their woodlands appropriately
3. Stakeholders to be less averse to the changes required to mitigate the impacts of oak decline.

Planned Impact

The impact we aim to generate will stem from our interdisciplinary research including state-of-the-art microbiome and metabolomic studies coupled with applied and practical forest ecology and social science work to establish human approaches to recognising and managing oak disease. Specifically, we will seek to: 1) influence decision-makers in forest policy and practice (e.g. Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission England and Scotland, Environment Agency, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, National Trust, Fera, Defra, Confederation of Forest Industries, Institute of Chartered Foresters, City Councils, nursery trade and community woodland groups) to improve their understanding of oak related pests and diseases and the threats posed to the wider ecosystem; 2) provide policymakers in charge of natural resource planning with the evidence to change policies appropriately; 3) instil confidence in forest managers to implement the management required to maintain oak ecosystem health; 4) prepare stakeholders for a potential loss, or major decline of oak. We can only do this by understanding if trees are experiencing stress that makes them more susceptible to disease (WP1 & 2) with knock on effects to ecosystem services (WP3) to use these data to develop indicators of threat (WP1) and in combination with tree surveys to develop a risk map (WP2) for future management purposes. Underpinning the project is WP4, which addresses the need to effectively understand the different human approaches to understanding how pests and diseases spread and how different scientific approaches might drive different management policies. Throughout the project's implementation we will deliberatively engage with key stakeholders in a co-learning process, specifically working together with individuals from our case study sites dispersed across the UK, as well as with local, regional and national organisations, for example through our Project Advisory Group.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We know that there are several bacteria that are individually able to cause bleeding canker symptoms in oak. We have found that soil conditions around diseased oak trees are changed from the soil around healthy trees. Some of these differences can be seen as changes in the mineral content and also the microbiome inhabitants.
Exploitation Route We are hoping that our finding will form the basis for developing a consortium with other oak researchers to enable us to apply for funding to validate our findings.
Sectors Environment

 
Description Action Oak Advisory committee
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Inetraction with DEFRA and external stakeholders
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Knowledge Review
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Use of a long term management tool by 25 forest practitioners
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Delivered by coI Alice Broome: 25 forest practitioners representing southern half of England and most of Wales have tried a tool for planning long term management of oak under deep uncertainty, c.70% said they would use this new approach.
 
Description AHDB Studentships
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 09/2021
 
Description EU Horizon 2020
Amount € 3,300,000 (EUR)
Funding ID PROJECT H2020 No: 773567- EC-GA 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2020
 
Description SCENARIO DTP
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 09/2021
 
Description Professional Internship Placement for PhD student 
Organisation Forest Research
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Dr Liz Shaw (coI) negotiated the placement.
Collaborator Contribution Forest Research provided the placement and helped to supervise the student.
Impact No outcomes as yet, the PhD student did obtain new fieldwork skills.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Woodland Trust funding to extend PDRA by 3 months 
Organisation Woodland Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Mateo San Jose Garcia (named PDRA) was employed for a further three months via funding from the Woodland Trust. This helped with further data collection and analysis.
Collaborator Contribution Alice Broome (Forest Research) negotiated the collaboration in partnership with Rob Jackson.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2017
 
Title Web-based survey 
Description Developed by coI Alice Broome and colleagues: interactive web-based survey application and platform 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Made direct contact with 40 international experts in the horizon scanning exercise 
 
Description A web page for the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A web page for the project was developed to provide dissemination of the project objectives and activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://protectouroaks.wordpress.com/
 
Description Article for Woodwise the Magazine of the Woodland Trust 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article written by Ruth Mitchell coI: More than an Oak tree?

Will be distributed to >250,000 people
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description One-day workshop In conversation with oak trees 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Led by Hilary Geoghegan and Trish O'Flynn (CoI and PDRA): one-day workshop In conversation with oak trees at Gilwell Park for 20-30 woodland managers where they shared their research findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at impact meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The project arrange an Impact event at the Royal Geographical Society, London, to showcase what the project outcomes were to Lord Gardiner and a variety of national stakeholders interested in tree health. I gave a 15 min talk to the audience as well as a personal tour and discussion with the Minister.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation to England Woodland Biodiversity Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation by coI's Ruth Mitchell and Alice Broome entitled "Alternative tree species for oak and ash"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation to international forestry sector 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation to the International Union of Forestry Research Organisations (IUFRO) conference in a session: The science of tree health and how we can use it: multidisciplinary research from the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative. To showcase our work on: Working with trees, ecosystems, diseases and people: developing new ways of researching tree health in the borderlands. 30 scientists and practitioners were in the audience, this led to multidisciplinary discussions and meetings with international colleagues afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Press release and media interview for the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A press release was drafted and this was picked up by thye Daily Mail. I gave an interview to their journalist and they then ran a story in the newspaper on February 27th 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Talk to Aberdeenshire Countryside Rangers Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk by Ruth Mitchell (coI) Can we conserve the biodiversity associated with ash and oak given the potential decline in ash and oak trees?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk with SNH staff 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Talk by Ruth Mitchell coI: Site Level Resilience Planning for Woodlands
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Two Future Forest Management Pathways Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Delivered by coI Alice Broome: Workshops to deliver information from the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Two UK Forestry Standard Biodiversity Masterclass events 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Delivered by coI Alice Broome: included PuRpOsE findings in two UK Forestry Standard Biodiversity Masterclass events for forest owners, managers and agents in East England (Lincoln, Thetford, January 2019)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Various media features (TV interview, radio interviews, Newspaper articles) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviews for oak disease (acute oak decline) and horse chestnut bleeding canker disease (wider tree disease issues) led to articles in the newspapers, radio shows and ITV Meridian.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/killer-disease-coming-for-mighty-oaks-glz97gfd2
 
Description Web pages developed for case studies 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Ruth Mitchell coI is developing webpages at https://www.hutton.ac.uk/oak-decline to make case studies and grey literature freely available
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.hutton.ac.uk/oak-decline