Lessons from a global perspective on tree health

Wingfield Mike 125Professor Michael J Wingfield, President of IUFRO and Director of the Forestry & Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, University of Pretoria gives an insight on his forthcoming presentation at 2015 ICF National Conference: Tree health, resilience and sustainability.

Natural forests and plantations of forest trees are increasingly threatened by insect pests and pathogens. Broadly speaking, native trees in forests are most seriously threatened. Once a serious disease cause by a pest, pathogen or a combination of these factors in symbiosis, there is little that can be done to offset the problem. Classic examples are found in Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight.

In the case of plantation forestry, while sustainability might be threatened and huge losses can be sustained, there are many options to offset disease and pest problems. These include planting of alternative species, selection and breeding for resistant genotypes and biological control (especially for insects).

The future of intensive plantation forestry lies in continuous improvement with forestry companies remaining one step ahead of pest and disease problems. Investment in the continually improving technologies will define successful forestry companies in the future. Companies failing to invest realistically will be doomed to failure.

Slowing the global movement of non-native pests and pathogens through quarantine must be a priority. This is a difficult goal to achieve and there are views that the effort can outweigh the outcomes. My argument is that we should use all options at our disposal to stem the growing numbers of new introductions. Investment in technologies that can enhance efficacy should be aggressively promoted.

Ironically, there are relatively fewer scientists working on pests and diseases of forest trees than was true three decades ago. If as I believe, we are fighting a virtual ‘tsunami’ in terms of declining global tree health, it is difficult to believe that funding agencies are treating this problem seriously.

Professor Mike Wingfield will speak on Day One, Session 2, of the ICF 2015 National Conference: Tree health, resilience and sustainability, taking place 22-23 April in Cardiff. 

Hommel Matt

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