Forests make heatwaves ‘initially warmer’


During heatwaves forests reduce their evaporation, causing the atmosphere to warm up even more, say researchers.

During extremely long periods of heat, however, this reduction enables the forests to continue their evaporation for longer, so the net effect is ultimately one of cooling in relation to the surroundings, explained a team of scientists led by Ryan Teuling from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, Dr Teuling worked on the investigation in collaboration with climate researchers from a number of European countries.

The study was prompted by recent heatwaves in Europe, which had raised interest in questions about the influence of land use on temperatures and climate.

Up to now, scientists had assumed that a lack of precipitation during heatwaves automatically led to a reduction in evaporation.

That reduction was thought to be less for forests, because trees, with their deeper root systems, have more water available to them. Examination of the precise role of land use, however, has been largely neglected up to now.

The study found large differences in evaporation strategies during heat waves. Grasslands evaporate more at higher temperatures and stop only when no more water is available.

Forests, in contrast, respond to higher temperatures by evaporating less, which leaves more water at their disposal.

During brief heatwaves, therefore, the greatest warming is found above forests, but during prolonged heat waves the increased evaporation of grasslands ends up causing a shortage of water.

This can lead to exceptionally high temperatures, such as those measured in France in the summer of 2003.

This mechanism might also offer an explanation for the unusually high temperatures near Moscow this summer, the researchers suggest.

In these types of extreme situations, forests in fact have a cooling effect on the climate.

The research was done on the basis of observations made above forests and grasslands in Europe by an extensive network of flux towers. For areas without towers, satellite data were used.

Source: Wageningen University press release

Date: 06/09/2010

US wolf re-introduction still leaves aspens quaking


The re-introduction of wolves in a US National Park in the mid-1990s is not helping quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) to become re-established, as many researchers hoped.

In a study published in the journal Ecology showed that the population of wolves in Yellowstone Park was not deterring elks from eating young trees and saplings.

It was assumed that the presence of wolves would create a “landscape of fear”, resulting in no-go areas for elks.

Researchers writing in the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) journal said that the aspens were not regenerating well in the park as a result of the elk eating the young trees.

However, they added that the conventional wisdom suggested that as the wolves were predators of the elk, it was thought that the elk would eventually learn to avoid high-risk areas in which the wolves were found.

This would then allow plants in those areas – such as aspen – to grow big enough without being eaten and killed by the elk. And in the long-term, the thinking went, the habitat would be restored.

In this latest study, lead author Matthew Kauffman – a US Geological Survey scientist – suggested the findings showed that claims of an ecosystem-wide recovery of aspen were premature.

“This study not only confirms that elk are responsible for the decline of aspen in Yellowstone beginning in the 1890s, but also that none of the aspen groves studied after wolf restoration appear to be regenerating, even in areas risky to elk,” Dr Kauffman explained.

Because the “landscape of fear” idea did not appear to be benefiting aspen, the team concluded that if the Northern Range elk population did not continue to decline (their numbers are 40% of what they were before wolves), many of Yellowstone’s aspen stands were unlikely to recover.

“A landscape-level aspen recovery is likely only to occur if wolves, in combination with other predators and climate factors, further reduce the elk population,” observed Dr Kauffman.

The paper, Are wolves saving Yellowstone’s aspen? A landscape-level test of a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade, has been published online in Ecology. The authors of the paper are: Matthew Kauffman (USGS), Jedediah Brodie (University of Montana) and Erik Jules (Humboldt State University).

Source: ESA press release

Date: 01/09/2010

North Korea begins agroforestry scheme to halt degradation


A “pioneering agroforestry project” in North Korea is restoring heavily degraded landscapes and providing much-needed food for communities, says the World Agroforestry Centre.

Jianchu Xu, the Centre’s East-Asia co-ordinator,  said agroforestry – in this case the growing of trees on sloping land – was uniquely suited to DPR Korea for addressing food security and protecting the environment.

“What we have managed to achieve so far has had a dramatic impact on people’s lives and the local environment,” he explained.

“Previously malnourished communities are now producing their own trees and growing chestnut, walnut, peaches, pears and other fruits and berries as well as medicinal bushes.”

Following the collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 and a lack of subsidies for agriculture in DPR Korea, famine and malnutrition became widespread in rural areas.

DPR Korea is a harsh mountainous country where only 16% of the land area is suitable for cultivation, data from the Centre suggests.

It addded that out of  desperation in the 1990s, people turned to the marginal sloping lands but this had a price: deforestation for cropping land and fuelwood left entire landscapes denuded and depleted of nutrients.

In an attempt to reverse the situation, an innovative project began in 2002 involving the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Korea’s Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection. The World Agroforestry Centre was later brought in to provide technical advice.

A system of establishing user groups with one representative from each family enabled demonstration plots to be set up and a large number of households have benefited from knowledge about growing multi-purpose trees.

Using these types of trees have helped  improve and stabilise soils, as well as provide fertilizer, fodder or fruits.

To further support the development of appopriate skills in North Korea, the World Agroforestry Centre has announced plans to publish an agroforestry manual.

The Centre added that work was also underway to develop an agroforestry policy for sloping lands management, as well as establishing an agroforestry inventory.

Source: World Agroforestry Centre press release

Date: 27/08/2010

Model shows ‘waves of forest degradation’


An international team of researchers has developed a model that suggests degradation of tropical forests occurs in a series of “waves”, reports the BBC News website’s Mark Kinver.

High-value trees were felled in the first “wave”, followed by a wave that removed mid-value timber before the remaining wood was felled for charcoal.

The team hopes the model will help manage forests as vital carbon sinks and limit the loss of biodiversity.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers said an economic theory was used to provide a general model to predict patterns of tree loss.

This translates to a prediction that waves of forest degradation will emanate from major demand centres and expand into nearby forested areas, targeting resources in sequence, starting with those of highest value,” they wrote in their PNAS paper.

“Such a sequence of demand, linked to resource utilisation, has been demonstrated for unmanaged fisheries… but has not been shown for the exploitation of differently valued tropical forest products.”

The team used data collected in the area surrounding Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, to see how far the degradation “waves” had travelled between 1991 and 2005.

“The first wave that emanates is high-value timber, and that is mostly used for export,” explained co-author Antje Ahrends, an ecologist at the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh.

“There has been a massive demand for this in China, and this is where most of the timber ends up.”

Dr Ahrends said the first wave moved out from Dar es Salaam rapidly, averaging about nine kilometres each year, because the “timber companies had lorries and loads of people working for them”.

“For the firms, it is only worthwhile to stay in a forest when timber can be accessed relatively easily,” she told BBC News.

“So once it becomes not so easy to get hold of the rest, the companies generally move on.”

The first wave had already moved outside of the team’s study area, and Dr Ahrends estimated that it was already more than 200km from Dar es Salaam.

The second wave saw trees being felled for medium-valued timber, which was generally used in the city for construction and furniture.

“This is expanding very rapidly, in line with urban migration,” she explained. “The town has an average growth rate of about 7% each year, so there is – again – a rapidly growing demand for this material.”

The timber is harvested by local companies, again with lorries, allowing large volumes to be collected in a relatively short space of time. This resulted in this degradation wave to also cover about nine kilometres each year.

The third and final wave involved local people collecting wood to make charcoal for cooking.

“It’s the most destructive of all of the waves because charcoal burners would collect everything,” observed Dr Ahrends, who was based at the York Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Dynamics when she carried out this research.

“It is only worthwhile moving on once there are no sizeable trees left in the forest.”

As a result, the charcoal wave had moved relatively slowly – from 20km outside Dar es Salaam in 1991 to 50km away in 2005.

“It is the most difficult of the waves to tackle because it is very poor people who burn charcoal and their livelihoods depend upon it.”

“Targeting that wave would mean trying to provide alternative resources for cooking, and alternative incomes for people who burn charcoal.

Species loss

The team also developed their model to gauge what impact forest degradation had on “public good” services, such as carbon storage and biodiversity.

They did this by recording what species of trees were in a particular area of the study, and what size the individual trees were.

“This later enabled us to calculate species richness and also the amount of carbon those trees were storing,” Dr Ahrends said.

“We found that there was a very strong linear impacts; for example, tree species richness dropped to only 14 species-per-sample-unit close to Dar es Salaam, whereas it is more than 40 species in areas 200km away.”

Dr Ahrends suggested that the model could be used to understand the impact of forest degradation in other sub-Sarahan nations in Africa.

“This is because conditions are very similar: high levels of corruption, weak law enforcement and very rapid rates of urbanisation.”

She added that the team’s model could help policymakers who were looking at ways to limit deforestation rates.

“What is really important is to understand the pattern of degradation and the way it spreads,” she suggested.

“While we have a good understanding of deforestation – which is the complete clearance of a forest – it is much more difficult to measure degradation.

“So if you have this simple model, then you have a basic understanding of how degradation might spread… which may help you develop some prediction of where it might spread from and how far it might spread.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/08/2010

Deadly oak disease hits Welsh private woodland


An outbreak of the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, otherwise known as sudden oak death, has been discovered for the first time in Wales on trees in a privately-owned woodland, reports the Forestry Commission Wales.

Staff from Forestry Commission Wales and the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) have visited the owner of the woodland in Denbighshire and a notice has been served to fell the infected Japanese larch trees. Only a small number of trees are infected, and the owner will use the timber on site.

Sudden oak death is a fungus pathogen that kills many of the trees that it infects. It was first found on Japanese larch trees in Wales in June this year in public woodlands  near Port Talbot, near Bridgend.

The outbreak in South Wales was the first time P. ramorum has been encountered on larch elsewhere in Great Britain since it was first discovered on larch in South-West England in 2009.

The woodland owner, Wendy Charles-Warner, contacted Take Cover, to say: “We feel rather aggrieved at the tone of the [Forestry Commission] press releases stating that we have been served with enforcement notices as if we were responsible for this outbreak and somehow in the wrong.

“We could take no steps to prevent this disease which is mainly airborne, have done nothing wrong and have at every point done everything we can to assist the forestry commission.”

A motor rally set to attract thousands of spectators to South Wales in July was postponed as a result of an ou6tbreak of the tree disease.

The route of the Swansea Bay Rally ran through forests that had been hit by the infection.

Richard Siddons from the Forestry Commission Wales said the organisation was “determined to minimise the impacts of this serious tree disease on woodlands, and the support of woodland owners in looking out for early signs of P. ramorum infection will play a key part in achieving that”.

It seems as if the warm but wet summer has been a key driver in the development of tree pathogens, with a number of cases making the headlines.

In April, a group of woodland experts expressed their fears for the future of British native oaks in light of the emergence of a disease called Acute Oak Decline, a bacterial infection that, they warned, could be as devastating for the English Landscape as Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.

They called for much more financial support from the UK government to help tackle the problem through research and land management measures.

In July, the Forestry Commission announced a £600,000 support package for woodland owners in South-West England and Wales to help tackle the outbreak of P. ramorum infection on larch trees. The package is part of Defra’s £25 million, five-year Phytophthora management programme.

Forestry Commission Wales is developing a complementary programme of support for private woodland owners who have P. ramorum confirmed on their land. Details of this support will be announced in September.

Ms Charles-Warner, in her comment to the story on this blog (see below for her full response), added: “

The ‘package of assistance’ that the Commission have announced is £300 per hectare, which we are not receiving or going to receive.

“If you have knowledge of tree felling you will appreciate that in a situation where stringent biosecurity measures have to be used and the trees have to be felled and brashed by hand that is a paltry sum, even in the highly unlikely event that you receive it.

She went on to say that she was “deeply concerned” about the situation: “If the Commission wishes landowners to report Phytopthora Ramorum and control it, in order to protect commercial forestry, then realistic support needs to be in place.

“Many landowners faced with a the prospect of funding felling and site clearance work themselves with the attendant stress and unpleasantness, are likely to ignore the disease and not report it.”

More information about sudden oak death can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website at www.forestry.gov.uk/pramorum.

To find out more about the support fund or to report suspected P. ramorum infection in their trees, woodland owners should contact Forestry Commission Wales’s Grants & Regulations Office on tel: 0300 068 0300 or email: bww.ts@forestry.gsi.gov.uk.

Source: Forestry Commission Wales press release

Date: 25/08/2010

British public ‘ignorant about trees’


According to a survey reported in Horticulture Week, a trade magazine, more than three-quarters of the people questioned believed that the main role of trees was to provide shade.

The questions, posed on behalf of Velvet Tissues – a UK-based toilet paper firm – also had a few more positive messages when it came to people’s attitudes towards trees, such as 75% agreed that trees featured in a favourite memory and 9% remember kissing a childhood sweetheart under a tree.

More than two-thirds of the people questioned considered the oak to be the UK’s most iconic tree, yet – depressingly – a third were not able to identify it.

The survey is hardly scientific,  and it is surely closely tied to a PR campaign in which the company describes itself as a tree lover (its website says it plants three trees for every one it cuts down to make its products), we felt it was worth featuring on this blog.

Sadly, it was not possible to get more details on the survey’s background because there is nothing on the company’s website and Horticulture Week only ran a very short story on the findings.

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 25/08/2010

International forestry researchers look to future


The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has released a plan of work for 2011-2013, as a part of its 2008-2018 Strategy.

The organisation – established in 1999 – sets out its mission statement as advancing “human well-being, environmental conservation, and equity by conducting research to inform policies and practices that affect forests in developing countries”.

The updated plan provides more details on CIFOR’s six projects, and what outcomes they hope to achieve:

  • Enhancing the role of forests in climate mitigation
  • Enhancing the role of forests in adaptation to climate change
  • Improving livelihoods through smallholder and community forestry
  • Managing trade-offs between conservation and development at landscape scales
  • Managing impacts of globalized trade and investment on forests and forest communities
  • Sustainable management of tropical production forests

The 145-page work plan, Medium term plan for 2011-13, is available as a free-to-download pdf (size: 1.5MB)

Source: Climate-L.org

Date: 25/08/2010

Cancer drug derived from rainforest shrub set for human trials


A potential cancer drug developed from an Australian rainforest plant is set to progress to human trials, reports the Strait Times.

Quoting the AFP wires, the newspaper explains that the drug is being put forward to the next stage after fighting off inoperable tumours in pets.

Queensland firm QBiotics Limited said its EBC-46, derived from the seeds of a tropical rainforest shrub, was ready to be tested on humans after successfully treating solid tumours in more than 100 dogs, cats and horses.

“We’ve treated over 150 animals… with a variety of tumours, and we’re prepared to move into human studies,” explained chief executive Victoria Gordon.

Dr Gordon said the results so far indicated the drug could work to counter a range of malignant growths, such as skin cancers, head and neck cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

She said the drug works like a detonator inside tumours, prompting inactive beneficial white cells to begin to fight and destroy the cancer.

The company is reported as spending six years developing the drug since the previously unknown molecule in the native Australian plant blushwood was discovered.

It hopes to raise enough funds to begin human trials in 2011.

Dr Gordon said the compound proves the value of retaining Australia’s unique tropical rainforests.

Source: The Strait Times (Singapore)/AFP

Date: 14/06/2010

UK elms – ‘not out of the woods yet’


Colin Tudge, the author of The Secret Life of Trees, is invited by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper to give his reaction to efforts to breed a Dutch elm disease-resistant species.

Library image from Take CoverIt’s an interesting read as he gives his reaction to this battle with nature, so here it is:

Could the English elm, so sadly laid low by Dutch elm disease, make a comeback? Paul King, who breeds trees at Raine in Essex, is on the case. Nearly 25 years ago he acquired cuttings from a few mature trees. He has now multiplied the tissues to produce a whole new generation of young elms that seem to be resistant (and are on sale for £120 apiece). Scientists at the Forestry Commission’s research centre in Surrey welcome his initiative – they are on the case, too – but are cautious. Resistance, they point out, is a tricky business.

The English elm, Ulmus procera, is probably not a “true” native – Britain has only 39 “truly” native trees – and was most likely introduced by Neolithic farmers from south-east Europe, via Spain. But it is an honorary citizen, treasured for its usefulness and its looks, favourite of landscape painters, notably of Constable; a tree of open woodland but just as happy in hedgerows where, if it was left alone, it flourished by the tens of millions. In the West Country it was known as “the Wiltshire weed”.

The first sign of trouble came in 1910 when the fungus Ophiostoma ulmi, a distant and degenerate cousin of the truffle, started killing trees in mainland Europe. It acquired its name, Dutch elm disease, in 1921 because it was first properly researched in Holland. It arrived in Britain by 1927 and looked very nasty. Happily, the disease died down by the Forties, after killing 10 to 40 per cent of our elms. Dr Tom Pearce of the Forestry Commission predicted, in 1960, that such a thing should not happen again – unless, he added, “the fungus completely changes its present trend of behaviour”.

Which it duly did. A new, closely related species of Ophiostoma appeared in North America – Ophiostoma novo-ulmi. It arrived in Britain in 1967 on imported logs, and throughout the Seventies and into the Eighties it killed about 25 million out of about 30 million elms, including most of the particular English species, Ulmus procera.

Dutch elm disease has all the biological attributes needed to be thoroughly nasty. It is one of the many “wilt diseases” of trees, which spread through the vessels of the xylem and block them. The spores are carried passively with wonderful efficiency in the sap, through the whole tree, and spread via the roots of separate trees that are often joined underground. The spores don’t live long once the tree has died and so should die out as their host succumbs – but they have a trump card: they are carried from tree to tree and from forest to forest by flying bark beetles of the genus Scolytus.

There is some innate resistance among the world’s many species of elm. The Ophiostoma fungus probably arose in Asia, so the Asian elms have evolved in its presence – and have developed considerable resistance. Breeding programmes are afoot in Europe to introduce genes from Asian species into European types by various means – and may yet succeed. Meanwhile, as Paul King has found, even within susceptible species, such as Ulmus procera, there will usually be some resistant strains. If they can be bred, perhaps we will have a new resistant strain.

So why the caution? Well, for one thing, it depends what the tree is really resistant to: the fungus or its insect vector? Paul King’s new trees are probably not resistant to the fungus itself, but are simply less palatable to the beetle. Of course, the fungus can’t usually infest the tree without the beetles – but it surely would be better to be specifically equipped with genes that would protect it even if beetles did get in.

The sad tale of Britain’s elms parallels that of the American chestnut, Castanea dentata – with some intriguing contrasts. For the American Indians and for the first immigrant Europeans, the American chestnut was a wonder tree. Its nuts were a food staple – and supported 40 million wild turkeys for good measure – and its trunks provided timber. There were so many that a squirrel could travel from chestnut to chestnut from Maine to Georgia without setting foot on the ground, or so the story went.

But the overconfident forestry “improvers” of the 19th century were still not content. They began to import Asian species with bigger nuts, to crossbreed. Inevitably, the newcomers came with their own diseases. And the American chestnuts, beset by novel pathogens, succumbed. By the end of the Twenties, the American chestnut, once perhaps the commonest North American broadleaf, was all but gone.

Again, through too much zeal, the Americans felled great swathes of chestnuts to create a firewall against the spread of infection. This failed to contain the disease – but it did, so some biologists suggest, remove the myriad genetic variations from among the wild trees, which might have included some that would have conferred resistance.

By leaving our own beleaguered elms to live on in the hedges, and nurturing the few survivors, as Paul King and others have been doing, we may avoid that final fate. (In truth, the American chestnut might not quite be dead. At least, George W Bush planted one outside the White House on Arbor Day in 2005 – but it is a hybrid: 15 per cent of its genes are from resistant Asian species. It is a sad relic, like an exhumed dodo).

Overall, the message is mixed. We could see the heroic efforts of a few growers and scientists as a triumph of human ingenuity over natural adversity – the continuing tale of “man’s conquest of nature”. Or we could see this endeavour as a desperate, last-ditch attempt to ward off the consequences of our own folly. For these are tales of hubris. We thought we could do what we liked in the name of commerce. But actually, life is more complicated than we ever supposed – and in the end, it is beyond our ken. Cause and effect relationships in nature are non-linear, which means it is intrinsically impossible to predict the outcome, beyond saying it won’t be good.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 09/06/2010

Wales to update its ancient woodlands map


Forestry Commission Wales has announced plans to update the nation’s Ancient Woodland Inventory.

Take Cover library image In a press release, the commission said that these habitats, which date back to at least the 17th Century, “support many species of plants and wildlife that depend on the evolving but continuous environments created by dead and dying wood and broken sunlight”.

It added that the inventory was first produced about 30 years ago, and since then, technology for gathering data had improved dramatically and better sources of information had come to light.

The update, which will be carried out over the next 12 months, will identify former ancient woodlands that have subsequently been planted with conifer trees to satisfy the demand for timber over many decades.

These woodlands are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).

This information will guide decisions on restoring some of the PAWS to their natural state by removing non-native trees and planting native broadleaf species such as oak, birch, rowan and ash.

“Such work helps to increase the variety of different plant and wildlife species in the woodland by improving habitats and providing food and shelter,” the commission explained.

Wood pastures – ancient and veteran trees found on grazed sites – will also be systematically recorded as part of the update to the inventory.

Despite the ecological value of wood pasture, it has no legal protection, so identification on the inventory may help protect these sites from damage or destruction.

The concept of  “ancient woodland” was developed in the 1970s and 1980s, when studies showed that woodlands that have had a continuous woodland cover for centuries were typically of higher nature conservation value than those that had developed recently.

The baseline date of 1600 AD was adopted because reasonable maps were available from this time (in England, at least).

But the commission admitted that it was an arbitrary date, and there was no clear ecological cut-off.

Michelle van Velzen, forestry and environment policy and programme manager at Forestry Commission Wales, said: “Ancient woodlands are a precious and finite resource that cannot be recreated.

“This update to the Ancient Woodland Inventory will ensure we have the most comprehensive and accurate information on the extent and nature of ancient woodlands in Wales.”

The update to the inventory will be completed in March 2011 and the new information will be supplied to local authorities for their use when developing planning policy that affects woodland.

Source: Forestry Commission Wales press release

Date: 11/06/2010

Amazon forest fires ‘on the rise’


The number of fires destroying Amazon rainforests are increasing, a study has found.

Take Cover library pictureThe BBC’s Mark Kinver reports that a team of scientists said fires in the region could release similar amounts of carbon as deliberate deforestation.

Reporting on a paper published in the journal Science, Kinver says the researchers found that that fire occurrence rates had increased in 59% of areas with reduced deforestation.

As a result, the rise in fires could jeopardise the long-term success of schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation, they added.

The researchers – from the University of Exeter, UK, and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research – based their findings on satellite-derived data on deforestation and forest fires.

“The results were a surprise because we expected that fires would have decreased with the decrease of deforestation,” said co-author Luiz Aragao from the University of Exeter.

“The implication for REDD is that we first need a system that can monitor fires,” he told the Science journal.

“There is also a need to shift land use in the Amazon to a system where fire is not used.”

‘Slash and burn’

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) schemes aim to create a financil value for the carbon stored in developing nations’ tropical forests.

It offers nations incentives to protect forest areas from a variety of impacts that release carbon into the atmosphere, including tree felling and logging, agricultural expansion, land degradation.

As deforestation accounts for about 20% of emissions resulting from human activity, the REDD programmes are considered to be a key component in the global effort to curb climate change.

“Fires following drought years are likely to release a similar amount of carbon as emissions from deliberate deforestation,” the researchers wrote.

“The higher probability of a drier Amazon in the 21st Century predicted by some global circulation models… may push Amazonia towards an amplified fire-prone system.”

They added that previous studies showed that fires in the region increased after large-scale droughts in 1998 and 2005.

“Forest landscapes in Amazonia are becoming more fragmented and, therefore, a growing proportion of forests is exposed to the leakage of accidental fires from adjacent farms,” they suggested.

The practice of “slash and burn” is widely used by farmers in the Amazon region to clear secondary forests and allow food and cash crops to be cultivated.

But Dr Aragao said: “We need to change the way people use and manage their land so that they can do this without fire.”

Commenting on the paper’s findings, Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme, said: “These results have important implications for REDD negotiations.

“If we are to control deforestation, you have got to look at what local people are doing outside of the forests,” he told BBC News.

“The entire REDD regime need to encourage a better use of land without fire.

“But if they do not use fire, which is cheap, then what are they going to use – strimmers? Chainsaws? Tractors?

“That means that money from REDD programmes need to go to people that not only live within the forests, but also the farmers living outside them.”

Dr Aragao agreed, adding that switching to fire-free land management in already deforested area that lie next to forests could “drastically reduce fires and carbon emissions”.

“It would be expensive,” he observed, “but it would protect the stability of Amazonian carbon stocks and diversity.”

Pieter van Lierop, a forestry officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA) – a member of the UN’s REDD programme, said the findings were relevant to policies aimed at reducing deforestation.

“The article clearly demonstrates that within REDD, specific attention should go to analyzing the role of fire and propose more responsible use of fire and/or alternatives for fire,” he told BBC News.

“However, we should also take into consideration that the article is mainly discussing fire incidence and occurence, meaning number of fires and not the size of emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/06/2010

Forest fire emissions ‘poisoning Arctic environment’


Forest fires and straw and stubble burning in North America and Eastern Europe are leading to record-high concentrations of the environmental toxin PCB over the Arctic island of Svalbard, a report warns.

Take Cover library imageOver the past decades, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been found in large concentrations in Arctic areas.

These substances accumulate in living organisms and are enriched throughout the food chain.

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) is one of the most important environmental toxins of this type.

“We wanted to draw attention to the causes of the environmental impact in the Arctic and trace the sources of the problem,” said Sabine Eckhardt, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU).

When biomass from trees and dead grass and leaves catches fire, it releases both PCB and other environmental toxins and creates yet another source of PCB emissions.

In 2004 and 2006, big fires ravaged these areas. About 5.8m hectares of coniferous forest burned down in North America, while Eastern Europe experienced extensive emissions from agriculture due to straw and stubble burning.

Several weeks later, the researchers found record-high values of PCB in the atmosphere above Svalbard.

“As far as we know, this is the first study that shows a connection between the burning of biomass and PCB concentrations in the atmosphere far away,” said Sabine Eckhardt.

“With a climate that is constantly changing, we expect the extent of such fires to increase.

“In such case, it also means that the fires may represent an increasing environmental problem in the Arctic.

“That in turn will reduce the effect of the international agreements that aim to reduce emissions of these environmental toxins,’ said Ms Eckhardt.

PCB is a group of synthetically-produced persistent toxic compounds., and can be stored in the fatty parts of the organism and accumulates in the food chain.

Humans, fatty fish and carnivores (such as polar bears) can therefore accumulate concentrations in their bodies that are so high that they are poisoned.

As the primary emissions of organic environmental toxins are reduced, the researchers believe that fires caused by climate change will become more important.

They point to the fact that there has been little focus on the significance of burning biomass, and the potential consequences of this for the Arctic environment.

“For the first time, we have proved that burning biomass is also an important source of persistent organic pollutants in polar areas,” Ms Eckhardt observed.

“This can be of great importance to international agreements that aim to protect the environment in Arctic areas.”

Source: The Research Council of Norway

Date: 31/05/2010

US Forest Services announces plan to save at risk forests


US Forest Service chief Gail Kimbell announced $50 million in grants to permanently protect 24 working forests across 21 States, as part of the  Forest Legacy Program, a USDA press release said.

The programme is designed to permanently protects important private forestland threatened by conversion.

“The Forest Legacy Program conserves open space, which allows us to respond to climate change, improves water quality and flows and connects children to nature,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“The strength of the Forest Legacy Program is the co-operation between States, partners and private landowners, all working together to protect environmentally and economically important forests that are threatened by conversion.”

Examples of 2009 projects include: forest essential for wildlife and recreation in Maine; pine ecosystem critical for threatened and endangered species in Arkansas and working forests that support rural jobs in Oregon.

The Forest Legacy Program promotes voluntary land conservation by operating on the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”.

Private forest landowners are facing increasing real estate prices, property taxes and development pressure, which result in conversion of forests to other land uses.

The Forest Legacy Program focuses on conserving working forests – those that provide clean water, forest products, fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

Most Forest Legacy Program projects are conserved through conservation easements, allowing landowners to keep their forestlands while protecting them from future development.

Source: USDA press release

Date: 18/05/2009

Forest Research draws up canker plan


Forest Research is to develop guidance on managing and drawing up controlling strategies for the bleeding canker tree blight, reports Horticulture Week.

“This disease has rapidly become widespread throughout Britain over the past five years,” said a representative for the research arm of the Forestry Commission.

Bleeding canker of horse chestnut was caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculi (Psa), but until recently it had only been reported in India in 1980, he said.

“It has now proved to be highly mobile and exceptionally virulent to European horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum.”

Researchers were looking to provide an accurate diagnosis of the pathogen and underpin management strategies to combat the disease.

“A technique called real-time polymerase chain reaction has been developed and is being used to detect the levels of Psa on infected trees and their surroundings.”

Previously little was known about what natural resistance horse chestnut populations may have had to Psa.

“But evidence indicates that even in heavily affected locations some trees remain healthy and symptom-free.

“Disease-free horse chestnuts have been propagated and will be tested for disease resistance in inoculation trials and compared against other disease-prone individuals.

“This research will ultimately guide management and mitigation strategies. Molecular techniques developed will also be applicable to the study of other important tree diseases.”

Source: Horticulture Week

Date: 07/05/2009

Climate ‘adds fuel to Asian wildfire emissions’


In the last decade, Asian farmers have cleared tens of thousands of square miles of forests to accommodate the world’s growing demand for palm oil, an increasingly popular food ingredient, reports Science Daily.

Ancient peatlands have been drained and lush tropical forests have been cut down.

As a result, the landscape of equatorial Asia now lies vulnerable to fires, which are growing more frequent and having a serious impact on the air as well as the land.

A team of NASA-sponsored researchers have used satellites to make the first series of estimates of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from these fires — both wildfires and fires started by people — in Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo, and Papua New Guinea.

They are now working to understand how climate influences the spread and intensity of the fires.

Using data from a carbon-detecting NASA satellite and computer models, the researchers found that seasonal fires from 2000 to 2006 doubled the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the Earth to the atmosphere above the region.

The scientists also observed through satellite remote sensing that fires in regional peatlands and forests burned longer and emitted ten times more carbon when rainfall declined by one third the normal amount.

The results were presented in December 2008 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tropical Asian fires first grabbed the attention of government officials, media, and conservationists in 1997, when fires set to clear land for palm oil and rice plantations burned out of control.

The fires turned wild and spread to dry, flammable peatlands during one of the region’s driest seasons on record. By the time the flames subsided in early 1998, emissions from the fires had reached 40 percent of the global carbon emissions for the period.

“In this region, decision makers are facing a dichotomy of demands, as expanding commercial crop production is competing with efforts to ease the environmental impact of fires,” said co-author Jim Collatz, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“The science is telling us that we need strategies to reduce the occurrence of deforestation fires and peatlands wildfires. Without some new strategies, emissions from the region could rise substantially in a drier, warmer future.”

Since the 1997 event, the region has been hit by two major dry spells and a steady upswing in fires, threatening biodiversity and air quality and contributing to the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere.

As more CO2 is emitted, the global atmosphere traps more heat near Earth’s surface, leading to more drying and more fires.

Until recently, scientists knew little about what drives changes in how fires spread and how long they burn. Dr Collatz, along with lead author Guido van der Werf of Vrije University, Amsterdam, and other colleagues sought to estimate the emissions since the devastating 1997-98 fires and to analyse the interplay between the fires and drought.

They used the carbon monoxide detecting Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite — as well as 1997-2006 fire data and research computer models — to screen for and differentiate between carbon emissions from deforestation versus general emissions.

Carbon monoxide is a good indicator of the occurrence of fire, and the amounts of carbon monoxide in fire emissions are related to the amount of carbon dioxide.

They also compared the emissions from different types of plant life (peat land verses typical forest) by examining changes in land cover and land use as viewed by Terra’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectradiometer (MODIS) and by Landsat 7.

Collatz explained that two climate phenomena drive regional drought.

El Nino’s warm waters in the Eastern Pacific change weather patterns around the world every few years and cause cooler water temperatures in the western Pacific near equatorial Asia that suppress the convection necessary for rainfall.

Previously, scientists have used measurements from NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission satellite to correlate rainfall with carbon losses and burned land data, finding that wildfire emissions rose during dry El Nino seasons.

The Indian Ocean dipole phenomenon affects climate in the Indian Ocean region with oscillating ocean temperatures characterized by warmer waters merging with colder waters to inhibit rainfall over Indonesia, Borneo, and their neighbors.

“This link between drought and emissions should be of concern to all of us,” said co-author Ruth DeFries, an ecologist at Columbia University in New York.

“If drought becomes more frequent with climate change, we can expect more fires.”

Collatz, DeFries, and their colleagues found that between 2000 and 2006, the average carbon dioxide emissions from equatorial Asia accounted for about 2 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and 3 percent of the global increase in atmospheric CO2.

But during moderate El Nino years in 2002 and 2006, when dry season rainfall was half of normal, fire emissions rose by a factor of 10. During the severe El Nino of 1997-1998, fire emissions from this region comprised 15% of global fossil fuel emissions and 31% of the global atmospheric increase over that period.

“This study not only updates our measurements of carbon losses from these fires, but also highlights an increasingly important factor driving change in equatorial Asia,” explained DeFries.

“In this part of Asia, human-ignited forest and peat fires are emitting excessive carbon into the atmosphere. In climate-sensitive areas like Borneo, human response to drought is a new dynamic affecting feedbacks between climate and the carbon cycle.”

In addition to climate influences, human activities contribute to the growing fire emissions.

Palm oil is increasingly grown for use as a cooking oil and biofuel, while also replacing trans fats in processed foods.

It has become the most widely produced edible oil in the world, and production has swelled in recent years to surpass that of soybean oil.

More than 30 million tonnes of palm oil are produced in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, and the two countries now supply more than 85% of global demand.

The environmental effects of such growth have been significant. Land has to be cleared to grow the crop, and the preferred method is fire.

The clearing often occurs in drained peatlands that are otherwise swampy forests where the remains of past plant life have been submerged for centuries in as much as 60 feet of water.

Peat material in Borneo, for example, stores the equivalent of about nine years worth of global fossil fuel emissions.

“Indonesia has become the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China, as a result primarily to these fire emissions,” Collatz said.

“With an extended dry season, the peat surface dries out, catches fire, and the lack of rainfall can keep the fires going for months.”

Besides emitting carbon, the agricultural fires and related wildfires also ravage delicate ecosystems in conservation hotspots like the western Pacific island of Borneo, home to more than 15,000 species of plants, 240 species of trees, and an abundance of endangered animals.

Smoke and other fire emissions also regularly taint regional air quality to such a degree that officials have to close schools and airports out of concern for public health and safety.

Peat fires also aggravate air pollution problems in this region because they release four times more carbon monoxide than forest fires.

In 1997, air pollution from the fires cost the region an estimated $4.5 billion in tourism and business.

Source: Science Daily

Date: 10/05/2009

Tree-killing hurricanes ‘could contribute to global warming’


A first-of-its kind, long-term study of hurricane impact on US trees shows that hurricane damage can diminish a forest’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Science Daily reports.

Tulane University researchers examined the impact of tropical cyclones on US forests between 1851 to 2000 and found that changes in hurricane frequency might contribute to global warming.

The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and release it when they die – either from old age or from trauma, such as hurricanes.

The annual amount of carbon dioxide a forest removes from the atmosphere is determined by the ratio of tree growth to tree mortality each year.

When trees are destroyed en masse by hurricanes, not only will there be fewer trees in the forest to absorb greenhouse gases, but forests could eventually become emitters of carbon dioxide, warming the climate.

Other studies, notes Tulane ecologist Jeff Chambers, indicate that hurricanes could intensify with a warming climate.

“If landfalling hurricanes become more intense or more frequent in the future, tree mortality and damage exceeding 50 million tonnes of tree biomass per year would result in a net carbon loss from US forest ecosystems,” says Dr Chambers.

The study, which was led by Tulane postdoctoral research associate Hongcheng Zeng, establishes an important baseline to evaluate changes in the frequency and intensity of future landfalling hurricanes.

Using field measurements, satellite image analyses, and empirical models to evaluate forest and carbon cycle impacts, the researchers established that an average of 97 million trees have been affected each year for the past 150 years over the entire United States, resulting in a 53-million ton annual biomass loss and an average carbon release of 25 million tons.

Forest impacts were primarily located in Gulf Coast areas, particularly southern Texas and Louisiana and south Florida, while significant impacts also occurred in eastern North Carolina.

Chambers compares the data from this study to a 2007 study that showed that a single storm – Hurricane Katrina – destroyed nearly 320 million trees with a total biomass loss equivalent to 50–140% of the net annual US carbon sink in forest trees.

“The bottom line,” observes Dr Chambers, “is that any sustained increase in hurricane tree biomass loss above 50 million tons would potentially undermine our efforts to reduce human fossil fuel carbon emissions.”

Study contributors include Tulane lab researchers Robinson Negrón-Juárez and David Baker; George Hurtt of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire; and Mark Powell at the Hurricane Research Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Source: Science Daily

Date: 10/05/2009

Date palm disease threatens livelihoods in Yemen


A disease which kills date palm trees, on which thousands of people depend for a living, has returned to Hadhramaut Governorate in southern Yemen, reports the UN news service IRIN.

Khalid Saleh, 55, could not believe his eyes when he saw his smallholding in Doan District (some 250km north of Mukalla) hit yet again by the dubas bug.

In the past the disease ravaged date palms in his village leaving dozens of trees dead and spoiling the date crop for the following three years.

“In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the date crop was severely damaged by dubas and consequently many people in my village went bankrupt,” Saleh said.

“The reappearance of the disease means we’ll get a poor crop. We celebrated when heavy rain washed the trees and we thought the disease had been wiped out.”

Ommatissus binotatus lybicus De Berg, or date palm dubas, is caused by an insect which absorbs the plant’s natural juices and exudes a sticky liquid, which gradually spreads and in the worst cases engulfs the whole tree, which then dies.

Saleh Ahmed is the head of Wadi Gozah Agricultural Association, an NGO working to maintain date palms in Doan District (250km north of Mukalla), and a member of the local council.

He told IRIN that when the disease reappeared in his village, he immediately informed the Centre for Agricultural Research (CAR) in Mukalla which carries out spraying campaigns, but he was stunned by their reply.

“They told us that they didn’t have money and when they got it they would start spraying. The disease has spread wildly and they haven’t come yet,” he said.

Ahmed has warned that many people in Doan District are threatened by bankruptcy.

“Selling dates is a life-line for poor farmers; others get work tending to the trees. This year, they may fall on hard times again,” he said, adding that farmers were no longer interested in planting palm trees.

Mohammmed Hubaishan, a CAR entomologist responsible for spraying campaigns, told IRIN that lack of cash was hampering the CAR: “We don’t have enough money to combat the disease in all areas and we are also waiting for insecticide to be sent from the capital.”

Hubaishan said the disease had struck to varying degrees in different parts of the governorate, with Doan, Al-Duais, Al-Shargiah, Qusiar and Hadhramaut Valley worst affected. Hundreds of thousands of palm trees already had the disease in the valley.

“Hundreds of tonnes of the crop were afflicted by the sticky substance in the last couple of years… and packing factories were paying lower and lower prices.

According to Hubaishan, there are no precise statistics but he believes the number of trees affected could be millions, and that thousands of livelihoods are at risk.

Source: UN IRIN service

Date: 10/05/2009

Wild fruit trees face extinction


Scientists have warned that the wild ancestors of common domestic fruit trees are in danger of becoming extinct, reports the BBC’s Victoria Gill.

Researchers have published a “red list” of threatened species that grow in the forests of Central Asia.

These disease-resistant and climate-tolerant fruit trees could play a role in our future food security.

But in the last 50 years, about 90% of the forests have been destroyed, according to conservation charity, Fauna & Flora International.

The Red List of Central Asia identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as under threat from extinction.

It cites over-exploitation and human development as among the main threats to the region’s forests, which are home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species including apple, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut.

Antonia Eastwood, the lead author of the research, described the region as a “unique global hotspot of diversity”.

“A lot of these species are only found in this area,” she told BBC News. “It’s very mountainous and dry, so many of these species have a great deal of tolerance to cold and drought.

“A lot of our domestic fruit supply comes from a very narrow genetic base,” she continued.

“Given the threats posed to food supplies by disease and the changing climate, we may need to go back to these species and include them in breeding programmes.”

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are thought to be the ancestral homes of familiar favourites such as Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.

The US Department of Agriculture has already sponsored expeditions to Kazakhstan, during which scientists have collected samples with the aim of expanding the genetic diversity of farm-grown apples.

This type of genetic foraging, Dr Eastwood explained, allows domestic lines to be crossed with wild strains, producing varieties more resistant to diseases such as apple scab, a fungus that can devastate crops.

“But these countries lack the resources to conserve their valuable trees,” added Dr Eastwood.

This year, as part of the the UK Darwin Initiative, Fauna & Flora International is working with scientists in Kyrgyzstan to carry out research on threatened trees and develop methods to harvest the fruit sustainably.

The organisation is training local scientists and involving communities in the planning and managing of their own forests.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 07/05/2009

Study links forest fires to climate shift


A warming climate will fuel larger, more frequent wildfires in the Sierra Nevada and other parts of the West, and the fires will contribute to climate change, according to a new study reported in Insurance Journal.

More than 20 international scientists, in the report published in the journal Science, said fire is not only a consequence of climate change but an important cause.

“Fire also influences the climate system. This is what we call a feedback,” Jennifer Balch, a fire expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Scientists determined intentional deforestation fires, many set in tropical areas to expand agriculture or ranching, contribute up to a fifth of the human-caused increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas helping to boost global temperatures.

The researchers called on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to fully integrate fire into its ongoing assessment of climate change.

Fire-climate feedbacks, they said, have been largely absent from global climate models.

“Extraordinary (fires are) occurring like a rash all over the planet,” said David Bowman, a forestry and wildlife expert at the University of Tasmania.

Fire of unprecedented ferocity swept across parts of Australia in February, killing about 200 people.

Similar fire activity can be expected elsewhere as the climate warms, including in the Sierra, where a 2007 blaze at Lake Tahoe destroyed 254 homes, scientists said.

“We are witnessing an increasing amount of so-called megafires,” said Thomas Swetnam, an expert on fire history and forest ecology at the University of Arizona. “Unfortunately, I think we are going to see more large fires in the western United States. The western United States is in a bull’s-eye.”

Swetnam was involved in a 2006 study that indicated increased fire activity is associated with increasing spring and autumn temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt in western mountains.

That study found that wildfire frequency spiked to nearly four times the average experienced from 1970 to 1986, with the area burned more than six times previous levels.

The average length of the fire season increased by 78 days between 1987 and 2003 compared with 1970 to 1986, with fires starting earlier and burning later into the season.

Source: Insurance Journal

Date: 30/04/2009

Pine voles blamed for US oak declines


Scientists trying to understand why oaks are starting to disappear from North American forests may need to look just below the surface to find some answers, says a Purdue University press release.

Researcher Robert Swihart found that pine voles, small rodents that live underground, prefer oak roots to those of other common woodland seedlings.

The study identifies the rodents as a possible factor leading to high oak mortality rates that are threatening the resource base of the hardwood industry.

“You see a lot of mature oaks, but you don’t see a lot of oaks in the understory beneath the canopy,” observed Dr Swihart.

“If you don’t see them there, you won’t see mature oaks in 20 to 30 years.

“We are facing a period in our history that could lead to a great crash in oak availability.”

Dr Swihart offered pine voles a selection of tree roots to eat in the laboratory, and they overwhelmingly gravitated toward oak roots.

Voles caused more than twice as much damage to white oak roots than northern red oak and black cherry, and more than six times more damage to white oak than black walnuts.

The study showed that the voles snubbed yellow poplar roots altogether.

“Either the oak roots were much more nutritious and had higher energy content, or they contained fewer toxins, or some combination of those factors,” he explained.

“Those are the main reasons an animal will choose one food item over another.”

His findings have been published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.

Source: Purdue University press release

Date: 03/03/2009

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