Healthy forests for a healthy future

by Dr Casper Crous

Since my rather wordy essays the past few days, I will synthesize Friday's events in a more concise fashion. This is also partly due to today's academic activities being somewhat less intense than those of the past few days. Not less credible, just less intense. After a week of information overload, this is most welcome, and also traceable in the demeanor of delegates slowly perusing the impressive exhibition hall. Also in their spirited chatter, as they discuss inspiration, and all the hypotheses to be tested when back home again.

In particular, the subject of biocontrol was nicely discussed. Representing FABI, Dr Brett Hurley gave an outstanding lecture on his biocontrol research in South African plantations. Prof Bernard Slippers (second lecture at this World Congress), shared research on the interesting phenomenon where Pine tree mortality is the result of mutualistic symbiosis between insects and fungi - biologically, a really neat system to have unravelled.

But before I divulge into the some interesting research talks, another FABI team member, Dr ShuaiFei Chen, currently extraordinary staff member, was one of nine recent PhD graduates who received an IUFRO Outstanding Doctoral Research Award (ODRA). He won the award for IUFRO Division 7 (Forest Health). It is good to see our graduates showing excellence at an international level. Furthermore, during the IUFRO business meetings, Prof Jolanda Roux was appointed the Division 7 coordinator of Pathology, as well as the deputy coordinator of Forest Health. Dr Brett Hurley was appointed as the deputy coordinator of Entomology for the Biological Control of Forest Insects and Pathogens working party. Suffice it to say, more golden stars for FABI.

Regarding the research discussions today, Brett Hurley highlighted the success of using Selitrichoides neseri as biocontrol for the pesky Leptocybe invasa - that massive problem in Eucalyptus plantations. However, like a good scientist should, he also said that the fight is not yet won. To have a more comprehensive biocontrol measure, to have more consistent results, we need to research many other aspects of biocontrol, such as rates of parasitism, and also the biotic interactions of S. neseri with other native organisms in the landscape, such as Megastimus spp. Moreover, increased biological control research on Eucalyptus has heightened importance since there are signs that another Eucalyptus pest, Ophelimus maskelli, might be heading this way. And we do want to avoid a double-shot of bitter.

Fortunately, as repeatedly emphasized this past week, issues like these are being prioritized globally, and the sharing of knowledge and more collaboration will help us find the right solution. For example, Prof Zvi Mendel discussed how both these aforementioned pests are present in Israeli Eucalyptus plantations, and shared his insights into how they are trying to deal with this problem. As Jack Dangermond pointed out on Thursday, we must share information if we are to better care for our forests.

Also, Dr Jason A. Smith from the University of Florida gave an interesting and eye-opening talk about Laurel Wilt Disease and its impacts on American Indian culture in particular. These cultures heavily rely on products of Lauraceae trees, such as Bay leaves and Avocado, and this tireless disease has severely hampered access to these products. Since the Lauraceae group is also a large plant family, there is currently great concern over the future spread and impact of this dreadful disease on populations dependent on these plants.

Lastly, a talk by Dr Toni Withers from New Zealand needs mention. As with South Africa, Eucalyptus spp. are non-native to New Zealand, and likewise they suffer a great deal with insect pests in their plantations. However, with their close proximity to Australia, they do have a unique situation in that winds originating from Australia often blow pests across to New Zealand. That sure sounds complex to manage. But I guess Bob Dylan has some insight: "the answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind."

I look forward to the closing ceremony and gala dinner where we can celebrate with the new IUFRO President, Professor Mike Wingfield.