The Tree of Knowledge (ToK): communicating the complexity of forest resilience. 08832

Lead Research Organisation: UK CENTRE FOR ECOLOGY & HYDROLOGY
Department Name: Biodiversity (Penicuik)


The UK research councils are nearing the end of a five-year programme of research called 'Future of UK Treescapes' which aims to 'understand the environmental and societal benefits of landscapes in which trees play a significant role'. To gain maximum benefit from this research the results need to be synthesized and made available, using appropriate language, and using a range of formats, to relevant stakeholders.

The Tree of Knowledge (ToK) project is a knowledge exchange project that will synthesize work from three projects (DiversiTree, MEMBRA and newLEAF) within the Future of UK Treescapes Programme, communicate the results to forest managers, policy makers and the public and in liaison with stakeholders co-develop guidance on how to implement the results both in forest management and in policy.

The three projects ToK will synthesis cover different aspects of forest resilience. Resilience is the ability of a system, such as a forest, to recover from a disturbance. Currently the UK government is encouraging an increase in forest cover as part of its plans to store more carbon, to mitigate climate change. However, many of the UK's trees are threatened by climate change and a range of pests and diseases, which might limit their ability to contribute to carbon storage and the wide range of other benefits delivered by trees. We therefore need to make our forests resilient to these future threats. Resilience is delivered by multiple interacting factors, but a key parameter is diversity. More diverse systems are generally more resilient. Diversity occurs at many different levels. Species diversity is the number of different tree species within an area and is the research focus of the DiversiTree project. Genetic diversity is variation among individuals within a species and is the focus of the newLEAF project. Epigenetics are the biochemical changes within a tree in response to stresses during its life and may be described as the 'memory' of the tree, this is the focus of the MEMBRA project.

Forest managers are advised that diversity increases resilience, but the practical implementation of diversity concepts can be complex and nuanced and may involve trade-offs between tree species, genetic diversity and epigenetic memory. In addition, genetic diversity and epigenetics are hard to visualize and interpret on the ground. The ToK project will make species diversity, genetic diversity, and epigenetic memory, more visible to forest managers, policy makers, and the public. It will explain why these concepts are important to understand and provide stakeholders with improved knowledge to evaluate diversity and resilience in the context of their own forests, such that decision-making is easier.

There are three stages to ToK. First, we bring together researchers from DiversiTree, newLEAF and MEMBRA to synthesize current knowledge of the benefits, risks and uncertainties of species diversity, genetic diversity, and epigenetic memory for increasing resilience. We will identify consistent messages from across these projects, reducing the risk that stakeholders will receive conflicting information from three projects which ultimately all have the same aim of increasing forest resilience. Second, we will work with forest practitioners and policy makers to co-develop outputs from the synthesis that meet real world needs. Finally, the project will leave a range of co-developed outputs. Our research notes and webinars (recorded for future use) will provide practical guidance for practitioners on how to include species diversity, genetic diversity, and epigenetic memory within their forest planning. Our policy brief will provide guidance on results from the project that policy makers need to consider. Finally, our animated film, blogs, infographics, and podcast will increase the visibility, understanding and raise awareness of species diversity, genetic diversity, and epigenetic memory amongst the public.


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