REDD+ could do more harm than good, forestry experts warn


As governments across Latin America prepare to implement a new financial mechanism aimed at mitigating climate change by curbing carbon emissions from the destruction of tropical forests, experts have warned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Instead, they are calling for flexible, balanced solutions to the surrounding this new mechanism.

Among the experts’ main concerns are that the wealthy and powerful could capture many of the benefits, largely at the expense of rural communities, including indigenous groups.

Organised by Mexico’s National Forestry Commission and the Swiss government, with scientific support from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a recent conference’s findings and recommendations will be feed into a UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) meeting scheduled to take place in early 2011, marking the launch of the International Year of Forests.

The Mexico gathering brought together scientists, as well as representatives of governments and non-government organisations, for discussions on governance, decentralisation and REDD+ in Latin America.

Under REDD+ (for reducing deforestation and forest degradation), industrialised countries will provide developing nations with sizeable sums of money in exchange for verifiable storage of carbon in forests, in addition to the conservation and sustainable management of forests.

Forest destruction currently accounts for up to 18% of annual global carbon emissions. Several Latin American countries, including Mexico, have taken the lead in designing REDD+ schemes and stand to benefit significantly.

“Good forest governance – involving transparent and inclusive relationships between governments, forests and the people who depend on them – is fundamental for ensuring that REDD+ helps forest-dependent communities move out of poverty, instead of fueling corruption and funding entrenched bureaucracies,” said Elena Petkova, a CIFOR scientist.

“REDD+ schemes could either flounder on governance failures or flourish under successful governance.”

The central aim of the conference in Oaxaca was to provide science-based advice on the design and implementation of REDD+ schemes, so these schemes can capture carbon and reduce emissions effectively, while at the same time generate significant benefits from sustainable forest management that are equitably shared.

“About 40 years of public sector investment in curbing deforestation, while producing many local successes, has fallen far short of its goal,” said another CIFOR scientist, Andrew Wardell, who was also attending the conference.

“REDD+ might be our last chance to save the world’s tropical forests. So, it’s extremely important to get it right in Latin America and elsewhere.

“This region holds nearly a quarter of the world’s forests, upon which millions of people depend, and over the last five years, it has accounted for 65% percent of global net forest loss.”

Source: CIFOR press release

Date: 03/09/2010

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

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

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

Study finds 25 news beetle species on Turkey’s oaks


Twenty-five hitherto unknown species of beetle have been found on the Turkey’s oak trees, according to a study by Swedish researchers.

Take Cover library picture“Most of them would disappear if the trees were to be cut down, and the risk is great”, says project leader Nicklas Jansson, beetle ecologist at Linkoping University (LiU) in Sweden.

In Turkey, there are 18 species of the oak family, and Dr Jansson and his research team spent five years collecting beetles from oak trees in four large pastures in the south of the country.

They said the study areas – 1,200-1,500 metres above sea level – were important for sheep and goat farming, but were now threatened by felling to make way for productive forest management.

They warned that as with all felling there is a major risk that some species become extinct since the oak dwelling beetles stay so faithful to their biotope.

“Some of the species seem to have a very low motivation to leave and find a new oak,” Dr Jansson observed.

Most of the newly discovered beetles belong to the Elateridae and Tenobrionidae families and have been identified by some 20 specialists across Europe.

The results were presented at a conference on oak ecology in Isparta, Turkey.

The researchers identified a number of factors that could be responsible for the greater diversity of beetles:

  • a climate that allowed species to hibernate during the Ice Ages
  • the topography which creates many barriers in the form of mountain ranges and other obstacles to the mixing of species
  • the geographic location as a bridge between Asia and Europe.

In a follow-up project, the research team planned to compare the oak fauna of seven countries, including Israel, Turkey, Italy, France, the UK  and Sweden.

The oaks in the Turkish pastures are pollarded. Shepherd people prune the trees in July and during the dry season use the leaves as feed for sheep and goats while the branches become fuel.

As a result of pollarding, many of the oaks were hollow and contain wood mould, a very rich compost of decomposed wood, fungi, excrement and remains of dead animals.

“I hope that in finding new and unique species we will get the Turkish forestry authorities to open their eyes to their oak treasures and to begin conservation work in the most valuable areas,” Dr Jansson explained.

Source: AlphaGalileo press release

Date: 01/06/2010

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

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

Key role of forests ‘may be lost’


Forests’ role as massive carbon sinks is “at risk of being lost entirely”, the BBC’s Mark Kinver has reported top forestry scientists as warning.

The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) says forests are under increasing degrees of stress as a result of climate change.

Forests could release vast amounts of carbon if temperatures rise 2.5C (4.5F) above pre-industrial levels, it adds.

The findings will be presented at the UN Forum on Forests, which begins on Monday in New York.

Compiled by 35 leading forestry scientists, the report provides what is described as the first global assessment of the ability of forests to adapt to climate change.

“We normally think of forests as putting the brakes on global warming,” observed Professor Risto Seppala from the Finnish Forest Research Institute, who chaired the report’s expert panel.

“But over the next few decades, damage induced by climate change could cause forests to release huge quantities of carbon and create a situation in which they do more to accelerate warming than to slow it down.”

The scientists hope that the report, called Adaption of Forests and People to Climate Change – A Global Assessment, will help inform climate negotiators.

The international climate debate has focused primarily on emissions from deforestation, but the researchers say their analysis shows that attention must also be paid to the impacts of climate change on forests.

While deforestation is responsible for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, forests currently absorb more carbon than they emit.

But the problem is that the balance could shift as the planet warms, the report concludes, and the sequestration service provided by the forest biomes “could be lost entirely if the Earth heats up by 2.5C or more”.

The assessment says higher temperatures – along with prolonged droughts, more pest invasions, and other environmental stresses – would trigger considerable forest destruction and degradation.

This could create a dangerous feedback loop, it adds, in which damage to forests from climate change would increase global carbon emissions that then exacerbate global warming.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Droughts are projected to become more intense and frequent in subtropical and southern temperate forests
  • Commercial timber plantations are set to become unviable in some areas, but more productive in others
  • Climate change could result in “deepening poverty, deteriorating public health, and social conflict” among African forest-dependent communities

The IUFRO assessment will be considered by delegates at the eighth session of the UN Forum on Forests, which has the objective of promoting the “management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forest”.

Co-author Professor Andreas Fischlin from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology commented: “Even if adaption measures are fully implemented, unmitigated climate change would – during the course of the current century – exceed the adaptive capacity of many forests.

“The fact remains that the only way to ensure that forests do not suffer unprecedented harm is to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/04/2009

Old elm ‘may help save other trees’


Experts hope an elm tree that survived the ravages of Dutch elm disease could hold the key to the species survival in the UK, the BBC News website reports.

The elm was discovered in a Worcestershire hedgerow, near Pershore, two years ago.

It had remained unnoticed because it was assumed all elms in the area had been wiped out by the disease.

The condition, which is carried by a bark beetle, has affected more than 20 million elm trees in the UK since 1970.

Now, Pershore College has taken cuttings from the newly discovered tree and has just planted the first of them.

Bob Hares, from the college, which specialises in horticulture, said that growing cuttings from old trees was difficult.

“The idea is usually to take cuttings from the young trees, which root much more readily, and build up from there,” he said.

The team will not know if these cuttings have the resistance of what they call the “mother tree” until they are about 10 to 15 years old, but they are hopeful.

Now the search is on for other elms that have survived and may also be resistant to Dutch elm disease.

The biggest problem for the college’s team is that most of us do not know what an elm looks like.

John Clarke works for Kemerton Conservation Trust, which works to preserve the natural landscape of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.

He said it would be mostly people older than 40 who would be able to recognise elms, “especially people who know trees like farmers and naturalists”.

Elms were once known as the “weed of Worcestershire”. The hope is there are more survivor trees out there to rebuild this much missed part of our landscape.

Anyone who sees a mature elmin the area is urged to contact the conservation trust.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/03/2009

Top five invasive threats to US southern forests


Apologies that this post refers to information issued in a press release by the US Forest Service back in January, but it contains interesting data and links that could be of use to people – Take Cover team.

US Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) ecologist Jim Miller, considered to be one of the foremost authorities on non-native plants in the  southern US, has identified the five invasive plant species he believes pose the biggest threats to southern forest ecosystems in 2009.

“Cogongrass, tallowtree, and Japanese climbing fern are among the fastest moving and most destructive non-native plant species facing many southern landowners this year,” Dr Miller warned.

“Rounding out the top five invasive species that I’m very concerned about would be tree-of-heaven and non-native privets.

“While our forests are besieged by numerous invasive plants, these and other non-native species present serious financial and ecological threats to the South and its forests.”

Non-native species often out-compete native forest plants and may degrade forest productivity, wildlife habitat, recreational values, and water quality.

Invasive species also greatly increase expenses as public and private land managers work to combat their spread and deal with their effects (such as increased wildfire risk and severity).

Non-native plants can be introduced and spread by wildlife or through other natural means.

Humans also spread invasive species by planting them in their gardens and yards and as a result of seeds hitchhiking on clothes.

Additionally, tractors and mowers used in multiple locations without being cleaned often spread the plants.

In an effort to inform forest managers, landowners, and others about where the most threatening invasive plants are in the South, Dr Miller collaborated with SRS Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) scientists to develop maps showing the spread, county-by-county, across the south-east of more than 30 of the most serious non-native plant species.

The invasive plant data were collected on FIA plots throughout the southern US in co-operation with state forestry agencies.

In partnership with the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species Science and Ecosystem Health, SRS researchers recently posted the maps and occupation levels online.

Dr Miller hopes government agencies, forest managers, natural resource professionals, landowners, students, and others will use the information to help combat the spread of non-native plant species in southern forest and grassland ecosystems.

Source: US Forest Service press release

Date: 12/01/2009

Twiglet: UK woodlands and forests


The social and environmental value of woodlands and forests in the UK is estimated to be in the region of £1bn, states a postnote from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

Once, most of the UK was covered in woodland but the cover was gradually depleted as the demand for timber, fuel and agriculture grew.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, woodlands made up about 5% of the mainland.

Following the sharp increase in demand for wood products during World War One, the government established the Forest Commission. Its aim was to build a strategic timber reserve.

This was achieved by a large scale planting programme, mainly involving non-native conifers, such as North America’s Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis). The plantations were established on marginal agricultural land.

Overall, the UK has quite a diverse wooded landscape; the majority of the native trees are broadleaves. The nation has three native conifers: Scots pine, yew and juniper.

Woodland is considered “semi-natural” if it is composed of locally native species. A small proportion of the remaining woodlands are considered “ancient”, because their origins can be traced back to before 1600AD.

In recent years, a growing awareness for the need to conserve certain habitats and biodiversity has led to a shift in management practices.

From the primary concern being the production of timber, the focus is now on “sustainable forest management”.

This aims to provide social and environmental goods while maintaining an economically viable forest, protecting it for future generations.

The forestry and timber industry is estimated to contribute £7.2bn a year to the UK economy.

It produces nine billion cubic metres of wood products annually, however this is still less that a fifth (18% in 2007) of the total wood products used in the UK each year.

Most wood in imported. The majority of the imports come from Europe, however a sizeable minority comes from further afield.

Campaigners have identified that some of this wood is harvested from old-growth tropical forests, resulting in the loss of valuable habitat and biodiversity.

Looking more detail at the environmental value of a woodland or forrest, a number of “ecosystem services” can be identified, including:

  • protecting soil from erosion
  • reducing flooding in some catchment areas by intercepting rainwater and reducing run-off in stormy weather
  • helping reclaim contaminated land
  • proving shelter, shade and cooling in urban areas, and wind shelters on farmland
  • conserving biodiversity (broadleaved woodlands contain more than twice the number of rare species, according to the UK BAP, than any other habitat
  • conifer plantations also have role to play in conserving rare species, because they offer protection to species like the red squirrel and the capercaille.

Looking at the role of the UK forest and woodland cover in carbon sequestration, it is probably safest to state that it does have a role to play in mitigating the impacts, but it can never replace a broad strategic effort to decarbonise the UK’s economy and activities.

The UK has adopted a number of international forestry agreements – it was a signatory of the Statement for Forest Principles at the Rio summit in 1992. It also agreed to the general declaration on the Protection of Forests in Europe, which was presented at the 1993 European Ministerial Conference in Helsinki, Finland.

These agreements basically enshrine sustainable forestry measures into a policy framework. Hard to believe, but the European Union has no direct jurisdiction over forestry policy. Instead it is formulated at a member state level.

But there are some EU legislation that has an influence on forestry matters. These include CAP, EU Habitats and Species Directive, Environmental Impact Assessments, and the Water Framework Directive.

Within the UK, forest policy has been devolved to the national administrations. Policy in Scotland and Wales is decided by the national Forestry Commissions on behalf of the national political executives.

Since the widespread adaption of conifer plantations in the UK, most are same-age stands, which are felled in large areas in one go.

This is considered to limit or damage the social and environmental value of the plantations and local habitat, so there are plans to consider alternative management techniques, including:

  • Continuous Cover Forestry – smaller areas are felled in one go, allowing the overall habitat to remain largely undisturbed, and also allowing a mixed-age stand to develop)
  • PAWS restoration – some conifer plantations were created on ancient broadleaved woodlands, so there is a growing commitment to restore “PAWS” (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites)

Even though there is increased protection measures for semi-natural and ancient woodlands (such as SSSIs etc), their wildlife could still be under threat as a result of human activities. Recent surveys show that many woodland species have declined dramatically since the 1970s. One theory for this worrying trend is because it is the result of changes in the structure of the woodlands, stemming from the lack of management.

Threats to the woodland and the species within them include:

  • increasing fragmentation: small patches of woodland, isolated by other land use changes, are more vulnerable to change and can support fewer species
  • decline in woodland management: over the past century, active management of woodlands for timber has declined. This has led to a reduction in open areas within woodlands, on which many species depend, contributing to a decrease in biodiversity.
  • Overgrazing: Increasing deer numbers (including four introduced species) are an issue across the UK. Deer are a part of the woodland ecosystem, but overgrazing affects tree seedlings, ground flora and other wildlife. In upland areas, sheep can also cause overgrazing.
  • Pollution (and other external influences): the threat from acid rain has decreased over the years as the result of tighter emission controls of coal-fired power stations. However, localised air pollution can still be a problem. Fertiliser and pesticide drift from adjacent farmland is an issue on woodland edges.
  • Invasive species: some non-native species (such as rhododendron and grey squirrels) pose threats to woodland ecosystems by damaging or out-competing native species.
  • impact from recreational users: trampling can have a locally significant impact on woodland ground flora. Disturbance by humans and dogs may also affect other wildlife, such as breeding birds.

The future of woodlands is ultimately at the mercy of climate change. Changes are already being observed within the woods in the UK, Oak buds are opening up to two weeks earlier than what they were in the 1950s, probably as a result of warming temperatures.

There is one school of thought that suggests that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to plants and trees increase the rate at which they convert the gas and nutrients, leading to an increased growth rate.

However, other factors need to be taken into account, such as changes to precipitation or water tables.

All projections and models have a degree of uncertainty within them, so there is not a clear picture of how the nation’s woodlands will look in the future. The only certainty is that they are not going to remain static and change is occurring.

Source: UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post)

Date: 02/02/2009 (however the postnote was first published in 2007)

Challenge to plant methane link


The recent finding that plants could be a major source of the atmosphere’s methane is challenged by new research, reports BBC News environment correspondent Richard Black.

A 2006 study suggested plants could account for almost half of the global production of the greenhouse gas.

But a UK-based team now reports that under normal conditions, plants just convey methane from the soil to the air without actually producing it.

Writing in a Royal Society journal, they suggest identifying sources of methane is key for climate control.

The gas is about 20 times more potent, molecule for molecule, than carbon dioxide.

After remaining stable for almost a decade, there have been signs in the last two years that concentrations have begun to grow again, which according to some observers presages an era of faster-rising temperatures.

The research that sparked the debate was published almost exactly three years ago by a group from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.

Frank Keppler’s team found that plants emitted methane from their leaves under normal growing conditions, although the output increased in high sunlight and high temperatures.

They suggested that plants possessed a hitherto undiscovered biochemical pathway that could generate the gas.

The finding surprised scientists, and other groups tried to replicate it – with mixed results.

“It just didn’t make sense, and wasn’t something that had entered into any of our minds,” said Ellen Nisbet, leader of the group that has just published the latest findings in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B.

“But then we looked at the details of the experiments they’d done, and they were clearly very well done – we just didn’t like the conclusions,” she told BBC News.

Part of her team’s work involved growing several different varieties of plant, including maize and rice, in media that contained no organic material, so eliminating the chances of methane being formed through decay in soil.

They found during these experiments, conducted in closed chambers, that the plants produced no methane at all.

In another experiment, they compared the genomes of several plants with those of bacteria that produce methane by biochemical pathways that are well understood.

Plants, they concluded, could not generate the gas by any known pathway because they do not possess the right genes.

In a third strand of investigation, Dr Nisbet fed basil plants with water containing dissolved methane.

Later, the air from that chamber was analysed and found to contain the gas. The team concludes that plants do emit methane during transpiration – the release of water from leaves – but only the methane they have absorbed in water from soil.

“I think this does tell us that the vast majority of methane emitted in normal growth conditions is explained by the absorption of methane in the soil water,” said Dr Nisbet, who conducted the research at the University of Cambridge but who now works at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.

In stressful conditions, such as high temperatures or high intensities of ultraviolet radiation, plants can begin to decay, which also emits methane – but this is not significant under normal conditions, according to this analysis.

Dr Keppler suggested the new research does not disprove his idea that a new methane-producing pathway in plants is awaiting discovery.

“The paper is adding transpiration as a source of methane – that’s a nice observation although not entirely new; it’s been found in other studies that rice plants act as tubes to conduct methane to the air,” he told BBC News.

“But we clearly showed in previous studies that emissions came from the plant itself.”

His research team is now actively looking for that elusive new biochemical pathway.

So the issue is clearly not completely settled yet.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 14/01/2009

Tropical farms ‘aid biodiversity’


A study has shown that certain farming methods can help sustain the biodiversity of tropical forests, reports BBC News’ environment reporter Mark Kinver.

Researchers found that an areca nut plantation in south-west India supported 90% of the bird species found in surrounding native forests.

The low-impact agriculture system has been used for more than 2,000 years and should be considered as a new option for conservation efforts, they added.

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

The team of scientists from the US and India chose the site on the coastal fringes of the Western Ghat mountain range because it met a number of attributes the study required:

  • a long history of continuous agricultural production
  • intense human pressure
  • extensive natural areas still remaining

The landscape consisted of a mixture of intact forest, “production forest” (where non-timber products, such as leaves, were allowed to be removed) and areas of cash crops, primarily areca nut palms (Areca catechu).

“We found a total of 51 forest (bird) species in this study system,” the researchers wrote.

“These species were broadly distributed across the landscape, with 46 (90%) found outside of the intact forest.

“Within areca nut plantations, we recorded threatened forest species, such as the great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) and the Malabar grey hornbill (Ocyceros griseus).”

The team said the combination of the height of the areca nut palms (Areca catechu) and the plantations’ close proximity to the intact forest created the necessary ecological conditions to support forest bird species.

They added that data showed the distribution of species in the area had been relatively stable for more than 2,000 years, before the first farmers cultivated the area.

As well as having a high ecological value, the plantations were also economically productive.

The areca nut is consumed by about 10% of the world’s population, predominantly Asian communities.

The shade provided by the palms’ canopy also created the conditions that allowed farmers to grow other high-value crops, such as pepper, vanilla and bananas.

Rather than expanding the plantations, the farmers relied upon the leaf litter from the surrounding production forests to produce mulch for their crops, rather than using costly fertilisers.

The researchers also said alternative crops that could be grown in the wet lowlands, such as rice, yielded lower returns both economically and ecologically.

Lead author Jai Ranganathan, from the US National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), said the findings provided another option for conservationists to consider.

“It identifies another tool that can be used by conservationists,” he told BBC News.

“If it is not possible to make places completely protected areas then they can look at whether a system like this will help support the rich biodiversity.”

Dr Ranganathan said that he intended to look for further examples of established agriculture and cultivation practises in the region that provided habitats that supported a high level of biodiversity.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 04/11/2008

Forest diversity ‘stems from specialisation’


The rich diversity of trees in tropical forests may be “the result of subtle strategies that allow each species to occupy its own ecological niche” rather than random dispersal, Mongabay.com reports.

Studying the traits of trees in Yasuni forest in Ecuador, Nathan Kraft and colleagues, writing in the journal Science, found evidence to support the theory that “niche separation” – subtle habitat specialisations among species – drives tree diversity in the rainforest.

The researchers’ findings challenge the recent hypothesis of “neutral theory”, which attributes community composition to chance.

“If the neutral theory is correct, we would expect these traits to be distributed at random throughout the forest, but that was not the case,” said Renato Valencia, professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador and lead investigator at the Yasuni forest plot, which is associated with the Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network.

“The traits we measured give us important clues about the strategy of each species in the forest – how they make a living – if you will.

“One exciting thing that we found is that trees growing near each other tend to make a living in different ways from their neighbors,” explained Dr Kraft, from UC Berkeley.

“This is a common pattern in less diverse communities, but it is hard to imagine in a hyper-diverse forest like Yasuni.”

The scientists plan to continue their research at Yasuni and other sites to better understand the patterns of biodiversity around the world.

The Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network includes more than 30 forest dynamics plots in 17 countries.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 24/10/2008

Why leaves fall from trees


Us researchers have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in which they explain the sequence of events that cause plants to shed their leaves.

Writing in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, science editor Roger Highfield explained that trees use an elaborate cellular mechanism to part company from their leaves, which act as “solar cells” in the summer but become superfluous in the darker winter months.

Reporting the researchers’ findings, he said that at the base of each leaf is a special layer called the abscission zone.

When the time comes in autumn to shed a leaf, cells in this layer begin to swell, slowing the transport of nutrients between the tree and leaf.

Once the abscission zone has been blocked, a tear line forms and moves downwards, until eventually the leaf is blown away or falls off. A protective layer seals the wound, preventing water evaporating and bugs getting in.

The discovery into how trees take on their winter aspect follows a study explaining the bright colours of autumn foliage.

Source: UK Telegraph newspaper

Date: 22/09/2008

Trees to power fire alert network


US researchers are investigating whether trees produce enough energy to power a network of fire detection sensors.

A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is looking to see if it is possible to harness the extremely small electrical current generated by trees could be used to recharge sensors’ batteries.

The researchers said that the US Forest Service currently predicted and tracked the path of fires by using a variety of resources.

One key tool used by the Forest Service was remote automated weather stations, but these were expensive and sparsely distributed.

Additional sensors could be installed to improve coverage, they added, but the batteries needed to be recharged or replaced manually.

The team hopes their design will be able to trickle charge the remote sensors’ off-the-shelf batteries, and provide enough electricity to power temperature and humidity sensors.

The scientists suggested that the system would be able to harness enough tree power to allow the sensors to transmit data four times a day, or immediately if there was a fire.

They explained that the signal would “hop” from one sensor to the next until the information reached an existing weather station, which would then beam the data via satellite to a forestry command centre in Idaho.

The electrical current is produced by an imbalance in pH between a tree and the surrounding soil.

The sensor network, which is being developed by Voltree Power, is set to be tested on a 10-acre (four-hectare) plot owned by the Forest Service in Spring 2009.

Source: MIT press release
Date: 22/09/2008

Stressed plants ‘produce aspirin’


Plants facing stressful conditions like drought produce their own aspirin-like chemical, US researchers studying a Californian walnut grove have found.

The chemicals are produced as a gas to boost the plant’s biochemical defences, the BBC News website reports scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado as saying.

They suggest that monitoring this could give farmers early warning of possible crop failures.

However, they also say the chemicals could affect pollution levels by combining with industrial gases.

Thomas Karl, who led the study, said the chemical triggers “the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defences and reduce injury”.

“Our measurements show that significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures, or other stresses.”

Ability to communicate

Writing in the journal Biogeosciences, the researchers said they found the chemical accidentally when they were monitoring emissions of volatile organic compounds in a California walnut grove.

Mr Karl said the chemical – methyl salicylate – could act as a “warning signal” allowing farmers to take action against pests much sooner.

“The earlier you detect that something’s going on, the more you can benefit in terms of using fewer pesticides and managing crops better,” he said.

The researchers believe it may also help plants to signal danger to one another.

“These findings show tangible proof that plant-to-plant communication occurs on the ecosystem level,” says Alex Guenther, a co-author of the study.

“It appears that plants have the ability to communicate through the atmosphere.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/09/2008

Mangrove felling threatens African fish trade


The harvesting of mangrove forests in West Africa for the smoked fish trade threatens to undermine the primary source of income for the very fishermen who supply fish to the market, reports Mongabay.com.

A study published in open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science conducted surveys in fishing camps and villages in south-west Cameroon.

The authors – Njisuh Zebedee Feka of Cameroon’s Regional Centre for Development and Conservation and Mario G. Manzano of the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico – found a poor understanding among local people of the importance of mangroves in maintaining fisheries.

“Communities are typically unaware of their own long-term need to maintain mangroves,” the authors write.

“Eighty-five percent of the interviewees reported that in the outcome of mangrove disappearance they would resort to farming.

“This is an issue because their lands are currently marginal for agriculture and also demonstrates the acute lack of knowledge on the functions of mangrove forests to their well-being.

“This is contradictory, because about 30% of wood harvesters ascertained that mangrove forests were degraded and/or depleted and as a consequence they were losing out on income and had to travel further distances to harvest wood.”

The researchers estimate that 205 hectares of mangrove forests are cleared annually for fuel wood used to smoke fish between their five study sites.

Given that Cameroon has extensive mangrove forests and that fish smoking is a widespread practice, it would appear that wood-harvesting is a significant driver of mangrove degradation in the country.

As mangroves serve as an important breeding and spawning grounds for fish, ongoing degradation could have a detrimental impact on local livelihoods.

“The current uses of mangrove resources in the region indicate a clear conflict between fishing and forestry,” they write.

“The very mangroves trees that serve as breeding grounds for fisheries are contradictorily being sacrificed as fuel for fish smoking.”

To remedy the situation, Messers Feka and Manzano suggest a series of measures including improving policy to allow community management of resources, raising awareness of the importance of mangroves to fisheries, and developing sustainable use practices.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 15/09/2008

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