Ash dieback – plant passports and disease modelling

  • Dieback of leaves (C) Forestry Commission. Image taken from the FC's Chalara symptom picture sheet at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-92AHUK

    Dieback of leaves. Image (C) Forestry Commission: taken from the FC’s Chalara symptom picture sheet at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-92AHUK

    The latest disease to threaten UK woodlands, Chalara fraxinea or ash dieback, has led scientists to call for plant passports to monitor movements within Europe, for all plants “for planting”, i.e. potted plants, but not cut flowers or fruits.

  • Stricter quarantine measures are also being considered, like holding certain species in a safe environment for up to two years in order to ensure they harbour no new diseases. The movement of firewood is another possible source of infection, with logs already banned from leaving the South East and East Anglia.
  • It has been reported that 11 new diseases have entered the UK since 2000, compared to 5 in the whole of the 20th Century. Ash trees make up approximately 30% of UK wooded landscape, which could be affected if the disease becomes established. A new report suggests that other major species such as oak and horse chestnut are also under threat. The six “top threats” are already present in Britain, and are all relatively new and invasive.

Implications and next steps: Scientists are using “crowdsourcing” to analyse the genes of the fungus that causes Ash dieback with the aim of finding out what causes the fungus to attack the Ash and the best methods to halt or slow the spread. This means that team will be able to enlist expertise from all over the world to understand the fungus’ origins and its relationship to other fungi. The Github system allows contributions from other scientists to be attributed and tracked, whereas scientists would normally withhold sequence data until they have analysed and had a peer-reviewed paper accepted for publication in a scientific journal, which may be inappropriate in an emergency.

The Guardian: http://tinyurl.com/cerla4b, EurekAlert: http://tinyurl.com/d4fb9ye, The Telegraph: http://tinyurl.com/cso5uhf, The Telegraph: http://tinyurl.com/c6k9bav, The Telegraph: http://tinyurl.com/d2no4dk

About Julia Chatterton

Systems modeller with a particular expertise in food, farming and agricultural systems. Working with life cycle assessment methods for over 4 years to assess and analyse the environmental burdens associated with food and other production systems.
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