news

Maintaining ecosystem properties after loss of ash in Great Britain

posted on September 5, 2018

The latest research paper arising from work supported under our Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholarship has been published.

Our scholar Dr Louise Hill, who successfully defended her DPhil thesis earlier this year, researched the ecological consequences of ash dieback disease in Great Britain. The paper is the second peer-reviewed output arising from her work, while one more is in the pipeline which considers the financial impacts of the disease.

Citation:
Hill, L, G Hemery, A Hector, and N Brown. 2018. “Maintaining Ecosystem Properties after Loss of Ash in Great Britain.” Journal of Applied Ecology 00: 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13255.

A figure extracted from Hill et al. 2018

Abstract

  1. Acute outbreaks of pests and disease are increasingly affecting tree populations around the world, causing widespread ecological effects. In Britain, ash dieback Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (Baral et al.) has severe impacts on common ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) populations, and the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) is likely to add to the impact in future. This will cause significant changes to the character and functioning of many ecosystems. However, the nature of these changes and the best approach for conserving ecosystems after ash loss are not clear.
  2. We present a method to locate those areas most ecologically vulnerable to loss of a major tree species (common ash) and identify the resultant damage to distinctive ecosystem properties. This method uses the functional traits of species and their distributions to map the potential degree of change in traits across space and recommend management approaches to reduce the change. An analytic hierarchy process is used to score traits according to ecological importance.
  3. Our results indicate that in some areas of Britain, provision of ash‐associated traits could be reduced by over 50% if all ash is lost. Certain woodland types, and trees outside woodlands, may be especially vulnerable to ash loss. However, compensatory growth by other species could halve this impact in the longer term.
  4. We offer management guidance for reducing ecosystem vulnerability to ash loss, including recommending appropriate alternative tree species to encourage through planting or management in particular areas and woodland types.
  5. Synthesis and applications. The method described in this paper allows spatially explicit assessment of species traits to be used in the restoration of ecosystems for the first time. We offer practical recommendations for the ash dieback outbreak in Britain to help conserve functional traits in ecosystems affected by the loss of ash. This technique is widely applicable to a range of restoration and conservation scenarios and represents a step forward in the use of functional traits in conservation.

Related papers:

Hill, L, A Hector, G Hemery, S Smart, M Tanadini, and N Brown. 2017. “Abundance Distributions for Tree Species in Great Britain: A Two-Stage Approach to Modeling Abundance Using Species Distribution Modeling and Random Forest.” Ecology and Evolution 7 (4): 1043–56. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.2661.


Comments (0)

Rising from the ashes

posted on February 19, 2018

Guest blog by Sylva Scholar, Louise Hill

We congratulate Louise Hill on successfully defending her DPhil at the University of Oxford. Louise is the third (and sadly final) Oxford-Sylva scholar. Over the last four years she has been researching the impacts of ash dieback. Here Louise describes in her own words what she has achieved, and what our support has meant to her personally.  Well done Louise!

It’s been a long road to get here, but four and a half years after starting I have finally finished my DPhil. As the Sylva Scholar, I have been extremely privileged to complete my project at the University of Oxford, with opportunities to meet top scientists, speak at international conferences, and produce the best research that I am capable of.

Louise Hill in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

Louise Hill, Sylva scholar, in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

My research project looked at various different aspects of the ash dieback outbreak in Britain. This disease is one of the most important contemporary challenges to the health of our woods and trees. An invasive fungal pathogen (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) [Ed. formerly known as Chalara fraxinea], it threatens the future of common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) as a dominant tree in Britain. The impacts of this loss will be widespread: over the coming decades we are likely to see significant impacts on the health of woodland and non-woodland ecosystems, on associated biodiversity, and on human health and wellbeing as the benefits of ash trees to society are lost.

My project was broad and investigated impacts in many of these areas.

  • I carried out experimental work to clarify the impacts of ash loss on woodland ground flora and invertebrate communities.
  • I modelled the distributions of trees and their associated traits and functions (with a paper published in Ecology and Evolution: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.2661/full). This allowed me to investigate the areas and ecosystem types most vulnerable ash loss, and to develop management guidance to help mitigate this loss (paper in review).
  • In my final year, I investigated the economic impacts, an ambitious project which I am now developing further with collaborators at the Woodland Trust and Fera, and which we hope will produce a high-impact publication with political significance.
Hill et al Ecology&Evolution

Hill et al. (2007) Ecology&Evolution

It’s been a lot of hard work, but I have come away with something I feel really proud of: a project that I could make fully my own, that I believe has contributed to both the scientific understanding of the disease and to practical measures to reduce its harm.

None of this would have been possible without support and input from the Sylva Foundation: the scholarship gave me a fantastic opportunity, and I have tried my best to make the most of it. This experience culminated a couple of weeks ago in an invitation to attend a Plant Health and Biosecurity conference at Highgrove, contributing directly to ideas for future policy.

I hope in the future I can carry on working on research in tree diseases in the future, as this project has given me a real drive to continue in this important area.

Louise Hill

[Note from Ed: Louise Hill’s thesis will soon be available online. We will publish a link as soon as possible.]


More about the Sylva Scholarship

Sadly Louise is our third and final Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholar, as we have been unsuccessful in fundraising sufficiently to appoint a new student.

Read more stories from our Sylva Scholars


Comments (0)

Oxford-Sylva scholarship highlighted in university’s major campaign

posted on May 12, 2015

The University of Oxford has announced that its major fundraising campaign has reached the £2 billion mark. We are proud of the Sylva Foundation’s strong ties with the university, particularly through our graduate scholarship that focusses on productive and healthy forests. According to the University of Oxford’s announcement today:

“The Sylva Foundation, a long-standing and committed supporter of the Department of Plant Sciences, is currently supporting a DPhil student through a donation of £31,000 for the Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholarship. The current scholar is assessing the ecological consequences of ash dieback in the UK and the potential impact on ecosystems and organisms that rely on ash trees. This understanding will help to establish resilience to environmental change and to find ways to mitigate the forecast impacts of dieback.”

Read more on the university’s website

The Oxford-Sylva scholarship is one of the Sylva Foundation’s current fundraising campaigns  – read more – and our wish is that we can secure the scholarship in full and in perpetuity.

If you are interested in finding out more about the scholarship, you can read more about the Oxford-Sylva scholarship or contact us.


Comments (0)

Congratulations to Dr Kirsty Monk

posted on March 12, 2015
Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk conducting fieldwork mapping fungal cords

Oxford-Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk conducting fieldwork mapping fungal cords at Wytham Woods in 2012

Congratulations to Dr Kirsty Monk, our first Oxford-Sylva scholar (2010-14), who passed her DPhil viva voce last week!

Kirsty studied the role of cord-forming fungi in British woodlands at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, and has since started pursuing a career as a science teacher.

We will make available the full thesis in the near future.

Read more about the Oxford-Sylva scholarship


Comments (0)

Oxford-Sylva scholar features in Oxford University annual review

posted on February 3, 2015

We are delighted that Oxford-Sylva scholar Louise Hill features in the University of Oxford 2013-14 Annual Review. Interviewed for the publication, Louise — who is studying the environmental impact of ash dieback disease on woodland for her DPhil in Plant Sciences — commented:

“‘I was in Borneo with very patchy internet when I received an email informing me I’d won the scholarship. It was brilliant – all my hopes were resting on it. In this current challenging funding environment, it was a lifeline.”

Louise Hill in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

Louise Hill, Oxford-Sylva scholar, in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

Sylva Foundation Chief Executive Dr Gabriel Hemery said:

“We base all our work on sound evidence, so investing in top-quality science is an important strand in our strategy. The scholarship allows us to foster champion environmental scientists of the future through a close working relationship with a leading university, meaning that our work will have a lasting legacy.”

Read more in the University of Oxford 2013-14 Annual Review

We are currently fundraising towards the Oxford-Sylva scholarship. If you are interested in finding out more about the scholarship, and how you may be able to support it, please click here.

 


Comments (0)

Oxford-Sylva scholarship highlighted by University of Oxford campaign

posted on October 22, 2014

Ensuring forests are resilient is a key part of the mission of the Sylva Foundation, which is why we invest in promoting and conducting research on sustainable forest management.

Louise Hill in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

Louise Hill, Oxford-Sylva scholar, in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

For the fourth academic year in a row, Sylva has supported a DPhil student in the Department of Plant Sciences with the Oxford–Sylva Foundation Graduate Scholarship. Current Oxford-Sylva Scholar Louise Hill, now in the second year of her DPhil, was interviewed recently for the university’s major fundraising campaign Oxford Thinking. She talks about her research, which focusses on ash dieback and its ecological consequences in British woodlands, and what it meant to receive our support. The full interview is available to read on the Oxford Thinking campaign pages – read here

Together with the University of Oxford, we are keen to raise funds to support more scholars of the highest calibre. Currently we meet the costs of the scholarship from our own core funds but this is sustainable only in the medium term. Our aim is work with other donors to secure the scholarship in perpetuity. We welcome expressions of interest from individuals or companies who would like to find out more about the scholarship and how they could support it.

Read more about the scholarship

 


Our thanks to Oxford Thinking for permission to feature the interview, and to John Cairns for the photograph.


Comments (1)

Calling woodland owners – help wanted in ash dieback research

posted on March 13, 2014

Sylva Scholar Louise Hill – who is studying the consequences of Chalara ash dieback in British woodlands (read more) – is looking for woodland sites in the south of Britain where she could set up her experiments. If you are a woodland owner, perhaps you could help her?

Louise Hill, Sylva Scholar

Louise Hill, Sylva Scholar

Louise explains:

I am looking for areas of deciduous woods, with ash mixed in to it ideally at a density of around 300 stems/ha (i.e., not an ash monoculture). Within each site I want to set up at least one (ideally two or three) blocks of plots; each block will contain three plots of 25 x 25m, one of which will have 100% of the ash ring-barked, one 50% and on 0% (control). The experiment will look into the effects of loss of ash trees on growth rates of the remaining trees, recruitment of seedlings of other species (ash seedlings will be removed), and also effects on the ground flora. It will also look into any interactions with deer abundance for these effects. I am looking for sites in Oxfordshire, Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

If you have a suitable site, and are prepared to have some ash trees sacrificed in this way, please contact Louise directly to discuss further. She can be reached at louise.hill@plants.ox.ac.uk.


Read more about the Sylva Scholarship

 

 


Comments (0)

Sylva Scholar article wins RFS James Cup

posted on March 3, 2014

The James Cup is presented by the Royal Forestry Society annually to the author of the best original article for the year in the Quarterly Journal of Forestry in memory of NDG James, a distinguished forester and former President of the RFS.

A panel of RFS members judges the award and the winning article for 2013 is “Cord-Forming Fungi in British Woodlands”, written by Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk, a final year DPhil student at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, and Gabriel Hemery, chief executive of the Sylva Foundation. The article investigates the ecology, diversity and distribution of cord-forming fungi in Great Britain, and was published in the July 2013 issue.

The article concludes: “On-going research is uncovering the numerous ways in which cord-forming fungi enhance and encourage woodland growth, health and productivity. … The time has come to consider all components of woodland ecosystems when managing for timber or woodland products. Future improvements to timber yields and woodland health will lie in improving nutrient cycling and woodland resilience, especially in the light of projected environmental change and the uncertainty it presents to woodland owners and managers.”

More information on the RFS James Cup, including free access to the article


Comments (0)

New Sylva Scholar starts research on ecosystem consequences of ash dieback

posted on October 16, 2013

Our second Sylva Scholar has started her research at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, funded partly by the Sylva Scholarship. Louise Hill, who was an undergraduate at Oxford before completing an MSc in Applied Ecology and Conservation  at the University of East Anglia, has returned to Oxford undertake a DPhil research project studying the Ecosystem consequences of ash dieback.

Louise Hill - Sylva Scholar

Louise Hill – Sylva Scholar

Louise said: “I am delighted to have this opportunity to work on one of the key conservation issues currently playing out in the UK and Europe. I hope that I will be able to make a valuable contribution to our understanding of this subject, and development, if possible, mitigation steps during the course of my DPhil.”

Louise has worked previously as an assistant reserve warden for the National Trust at Wicken Fen NNR in Cambridgeshire. She has also carried out a five month research project in Malaysian Borneo investigating the effects of rainforest logging on the parasite loads of Bornean birds.

Ash Dieback, caused by the fungal agent Chalara fraxinea, is an emerging lethal disease of ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) which is threatening ash survival in many parts of Europe. In Denmark, for instance, which saw its first observed case in 2002, up to 90% of the entire ash population has become infected. The disease was first found in Britain in February 2012 and current estimates suggest that subsequent spread may affect between 90% and 99% of all British ash trees.

The project aims to investigate:

  1. The current distribution of ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in the UK and its likely ecological roles.
  2. Changes in biotic and abiotic conditions within ash-dominated woodlands before, during and after infection with Chalara fraxinea.
  3. The ecosystem consequences of losing 90% to 99% of ash trees, particularly with regard to landscape connectivity. The high percentage of ash in hedgerow corridors between forest habitats may be among the most important ecological roles of ash in the UK.
  4. Synergistic effects on biodiversity of co-occurrence with other major tree diseases, including Oak Decline and Chestnut Bleeding Canker.

 

The Sylva Scholarship was launched in Autumn 2010 in partnership with the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford. The theme of the scholarship is healthy trees and productive forests. Sylva is keen to raise sufficient funds to secure the scholarship in perpituity – read more about our fundraising campaign.

Read the latest news on the scholarship from our blog


Comments (1)

Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands

posted on July 9, 2013

Sylva scholar Kirsty Monk, has co-authored a paper published in the Royal Forestry Society‘s journal this month. It describes the role and importance of the lesser known group of ecosystem engineers in British woodlands; cord-forming fungi. With fellow author Gabriel Hemery, they examine the extent of our fungal knowledge and discuss their implications for forestry in the future.

Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do

Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do

The authors end with a salient and practical point for all woodland owners:

“The time has come to consider all components of woodland ecosystems when managing for timber or woodland products. Future improvements to timber yields and woodland health will lie in improving nutrient cycling and woodland resilience, especially in the light of projected environmental change and the uncertainly it presents to woodland owners and managers.”

Monk, K. and Hemery, G. (2013). Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 107, 3, 197-202.

The article is freely available to download from the Forestry Horizons library, with kind permission of the Royal Forestry Society.

 


Comments (0)
Older Posts »