Evaluating climate matching: do changes in forest management influence the susceptibility of trees to pests and pathogens?

Institution: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Wallingford

Lead Supervisor: Dr Melanie Gibbs

Project Description

Climate matching is a forest management strategy that aims to mitigate the impact of climate change and involves the introduction of trees from source populations (provenances) that experience today the climate predicted in Britain in 50-80 years’ time. Although these introduced provenances are predicted to be adapted to future warmer climates, poor matching of provenances has the potential to induce stress, making trees more susceptible to pests and pathogens. Previous work by the supervisors has shown how the phenotypic traits of introduced provenances influences insect pest communities. This project will extend this work and assess the susceptibility of introduced provenances to a model pathogen species; oak powdery mildew (Erysiphealphitoides) and determine whether there is any relationship with i) tree phenotypic traits; spring budburst phenology and height, ii) the diversity of the stand (i.e. planting design; increasing genetic diversity) and iii) foliar herbivore densities.

Training will be provided in several key skills identified in the NERC ‘Most-wanted skills II’ report (LWEC report 2012), including data management, statistical methods for handling, analysing and interpreting large datasets, taxonomy & systematics, and fieldwork. The student will receive fieldwork supervision from Dr. Nadia Barsoum who manages the ‘climate-match’ experimental trials in Kent, which comprise monocultures and mixtures of different provenances and species; these trials are part of a larger global network of tree diversity gradient trials.  Drs. Gibbs and Schonrogge will provide training in herbivore and mildew sampling, and all supervisors will aid the student with, sample design, statistical analyses and REP report write-up. This work will compliment on-going projects; PuRpOsE and ProTree both funded under the LWEC Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative. There are no known intellectual property rights concerns that may arise from this work, and currently there are no competing resource/equipment/space demands that will impact this project.

Indicative timescale of project (subject to change)

The student will survey oak provenances at the Hucking Estate UK Climate Matching provenance trial in Kent. Week 1 of the placement (4-8th July) will involve intensive training in field survey methods and herbivore/mildew species identification. To capture seasonal variation, powdery mildew prevalence will be assessed at two time points: early July (4-16th), and early August (15-26th). Powdery mildew presence will be assessed visually by estimating the percentage of the leaf area (30 leaves per tree) covered by E. alphitoides mycelium on a scale 0–100%: 0 for no visible mildew spots and 100% for full coverage of the leaves by mildew. Foliar herbivore densities (gall wasps and leaf miners) will be assessed on 10 terminal shoots per sampled tree (25/7– 12/8).  The final 2 weeks of the placement (22/8-9/9) will consist of training in statistical analyses, data analyses and write-up of the REP report.

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