Tree doctors from UP call for global strategy for forest health and biosecurity

Forests worldwide are continually under threat from introduced insects and pathogens despite the best biosecurity efforts. Without a concerted global effort to understand and control invasive pests the problem is expected to worsen as international trade increases.
In a review article, published in the prominent journal Science, Prof Mike Wingfield and his co-authors from the Forestry and Biodiversity Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria (UP) assert that an integrated global strategy is urgently needed to protect our forests.

Profs Wingfield, Bernard Slippers, Brenda Wingfield from FABI and Dr Eckehard Brockerhoff, Principal Scientist at Scion in New Zealand, considers the urgent need for a global strategy to keep planted forests healthy. They reflect on the global value of plantation forests that are seriously threatened by invasive pathogens and insect pests. Globalisation is compounding this issue, and while there are solutions – including biosecurity, biological control, breeding, genetic engineering, environmentally safe chemical control and more – to protect forests, the lack of investment, capacity, and coordination of global efforts are barriers.

‘More and more pests are emerging. Their impact is a growing concern as one in every six people rely on forests for food globally, and many more depend on them for climate regulation, carbon storage, health (through improved water and air quality) as well as the wood and wood-product industries,’ explained Prof Wingfield. In South Africa, forestry contributes around R45 billion a year to the economy.

‘Keeping invasive pests out of forests should be a top priority for all countries,’ he said.
The authors added that global biosecurity is only as strong as the weakest link. ‘Many countries don’t have the resources to put biosecurity measures in place for plants and plant products. Once a pest becomes established it can be impossible to eradicate, and the pest can use the new country as a stepping stone for further invasions.’

The authors said that the only way to realistically deal with tree pests will be through global collaboration – sharing experience and research findings. While bodies like the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO)help to facilitate collaboration, there is no single body or funding structure to support a global strategy for dealing with pests in planted forests.

According to the researchers, the perfect time to talk about this issue is now, as the World Forestry Congress of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) is focusing on forest health and sustainability when it meets in September in South Africa.

Paper and other details
1 Wingfield, M.J., Brockerhoff, E.G., Wingfield, B.D. & Slippers, B. (2015). Planted forest health: The need for a global strategy. Science (in press) DOI
2 See Fig. 2 of the paper for the spread of pitch canker.

An introduction to the special issue of Science and the other review papers are available here or visit http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6250/800.full 

Story by Ansa Heyl, Newsroom, University of Pretoria.